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Deposition of Mercury in Forests along a Montane Elevation Gradient

Blackwell, Bradley D., Driscoll, Charles T.
Environmental Science & Technology 2015 v.49 no.9 pp. 5363-5370
Picea, altitude, climate, dry deposition, hardwood, hardwood forests, mercury, montane forests, organic horizons, throughfall, trees, United States
Atmospheric mercury (Hg) deposition varies along elevation gradients and is influenced by both orographic and biological factors. We quantified total Hg deposition over a 2 year period at 24 forest sites at Whiteface Mountain, NY, USA, that ranged from 450 to 1450 m above sea level and covered three distinct forest types: deciduous/hardwood forest (14.1 μg/m²-yr), spruce/fir forest (33.8 μg/m²-yr), and stunted growth alpine/fir forest (44.0 μg/m²-yr). Atmospheric Hg deposition increased with elevation, with the dominant deposition pathways shifting from litterfall in low-elevation hardwoods to throughfall in midelevation spruce/fir to cloudwater in high-elevation alpine forest. Soil Hg concentrations (ranging from 69 to 416 ng/g for the Oi/Oe and 72 to 598 ng/g for the Oa horizons) were correlated with total Hg deposition, but the weakness of the correlations suggests that additional factors such as climate and tree species also contribute to soil Hg accumulation. Meteorological conditions influenced Hg deposition pathways, as cloudwater Hg diminished in 2010 (dry conditions) compared to 2009 (wet conditions). However, the dry conditions in 2010 led to increased Hg dry deposition and subsequent significant increases in throughfall Hg fluxes compared to 2009. These findings suggest that elevation, forest characteristics, and meteorological conditions are all important drivers of atmospheric Hg deposition to montane forests.