US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Pollution 154 (2008) 143e154


The small watershed approach is well-suited but underutilized in mercury research. We applied the small watershed approach to investigate total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) dynamics in streamwater at the five diverse forested headwater catchments of the US Geological Survey Water, Energy, and Biogeochemical Budgets (WEBB) program. At all sites, baseflow THg was generally less than 1 ng L-1 and MeHg was less than 0.2 ng L-1. THg and MeHg concentrations increased with streamflow, so export was primarily episodic. At three sites, THg and MeHg concentration and export were dominated by the particulate fraction in association with POC at high flows, with maximum THg (MeHg) concentrations of 94 (2.56) ng L-1 at Sleepers River, Vermont; 112 (0.75) ng L1 at Rio Icacos, Puerto Rico; and 55 (0.80) ng L-1 at Panola Mt., Georgia. Filtered (<0.7 mm) THg increased more modestly with flow in association with the hydrophobic acid fraction (HPOA) of DOC, with maximum filtered THg concentrations near 5 ng L-1 at both Sleepers and Icacos. At Andrews Creek, Colorado, THg export was also episodic but was dominated by filtered THg, as POC concentrations were low. MeHg typically tracked THg so that each site had a fairly constant MeHg/THg ratio, which ranged from near zero at Andrews to 15% at the low-relief, groundwater-dominated Allequash Creek, Wisconsin. Allequash was the only site with filtered MeHg consistently above detection, and the filtered fraction dominated both THg and MeHg. Relative to inputs in wet deposition, watershed retention of THg (minus any subsequent volatilization) was 96.6% at Allequash, 60% at Sleepers, and 83% at Andrews. Icacos had a net export of THg, possibly due to historic gold mining or frequent disturbance from landslides. Quantification and interpretation of Hg dynamics was facilitated by the small watershed approach with emphasis on event sampling.