Water Resources of North Dakota

Mercury Accumulation in Devils Lake, North Dakota--Effects of Environmental Variation in Closed-Basin Lakes on Mercury Chronologies

By Robert M. Lent, and Clark R. Alexander

Abstract: Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, v. 98



Sediment cores were collected from six locations in the Devils Lake Basin in North Dakota to determine mercury (Hg) accumulation chronologies. The maximum Hg concentration in the Creel Bay core was 0.15 micrograms per gram at 8 to 9 centimeters. The maximum Hg concentration in the Main Bay core was 0.07 micrograms per gram at 5 to 7 centimeters. The general decreases in Hg concentrations with depth are attributed to historic variations in atmospheric Hg deposition rate. Hg stratigraphies combined with 210 Pb and 137 Cs dating analyses yield Hg chronologies that indicate a general increase in Hg accumulation rates in Devils Lake since the middle of the 19th century. Mean modern Hg accumulation rates in Creel Bay were 4.9 nanograms per square centimeter per year, and rates in Main Bay were 1.8 nanograms per square centimeter per year. Mean preindustrial Hg accumulation rates in Creel Bay were 1.2 nanograms per square centimeter per year, and rates in Main Bay were 1.6 nanograms per square centimeter per year. Relatively low Hg concentrations in recent sediments in the Devils Lake Basin, along with similarities in Hg accumulation rates between lakes in the Devils Lake Basin and other lakes in the region, indicate that local sources of Hg are not important sources of Hg. Results of the study indicate that accurate Hg chronologies are discernible in sediment cores collected from saline lakes. However, spatial and temporal variations in lake level and water chemistry common to saline lakes make interpretation of radioisotopic and geochemical chronologies difficult.

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