Articles | Volume 10, issue 7
14 Apr 2010
 | 14 Apr 2010

Sediment records of highly variable mercury inputs to mountain lakes in Patagonia during the past millennium

S. Ribeiro Guevara, M. Meili, A. Rizzo, R. Daga, and M. Arribére

Abstract. High Hg levels in the pristine lacustrine ecosystems of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, a protected zone situated in the Andes of Northern Patagonia, Argentina, have initiated further investigations on Hg cycling and source identification. Here we report Hg records in sedimentary sequences to identify atmospheric sources during the past millennium. In addition to global transport and deposition, a potential atmospheric Hg source to be considered is the local emissions associated with volcanic activity, because the Park is situated in the Southern Volcanic Zone. Two sediment cores were extracted from Lake Tonček, a small, high-altitude system reflecting mainly direct inputs associated with atmospheric contributions, and Lake Moreno Oeste, a much larger and deeper lake having an extended watershed covered mostly by native forest.

The sedimentary sequences were dated based on both 210Pb and 137Cs profiles. In addition, tephra layers were identified and geochemically characterized for chronological application and to investigate any association of volcanic eruptions with Hg records. Hg concentrations in sediments were measured along with 32 other elements, as well as organic matter, subfossil chironomids, and biogenic silica. Observed background Hg concentrations, determined from the sequence domains with lower values, ranged from 50 to 100 ng g−1 dry weight (DW), whereas the surficial layers reached 200 to 500 ng g−1 DW. In addition to this traditional pattern, however, two deep domains in both sequences showed dramatically increased Hg levels reaching 400 to 650 ng g−1 DW; the upper dated to the 18th to 19th centuries, and the lower around the 13th century. These concentrations are not only elevated in the present profiles but also many-fold above the background values determined in other fresh water sediments, as were also the Hg fluxes, reaching 120 to 150 μg m−2 y−1 in Lake Tonček . No correlation was observed between Hg concentrations and the contents of organic matter, subfossil chironomids, biogenic silica, or the other elements determined. However, distinctly increased Hg concentrations were observed immediately above some tephra layers, suggesting a link to volcanic events. Extended fires might be another potential atmospheric source because the earlier Hg peaks coincide with reported charcoal peaks, whereas the upper Hg peaks coincide with evidences of extended forest fires from tree-ring data and historical records.

Final-revised paper