Atmospheric mercury deposition in the environment

A long-term focus of my research program has been to characterize and quantify atmospheric mercury deposition and its fate, transport and effects in the environment. This includes work in the Adirondacks and other regions. Through this research we have documented pathways of mercury deposition, its fate, conversion to methylmercury (the form that accumulates in biota) and trophic transfer in aquatic and terrestrial food chains. We have observed long-term decreases in atmospheric mercury deposition and lake-watershed total mercury and methyl mercury at Arbutus Lake-watershed presumably in response to recent decreases in mercury emissions. We have a series of projects on mercury effects in the Adirondacks (see figure below).




















We are examining deposition and formation of methyl mercury at Whiteface Mountain (Gerson et al. 2017). In this study we are using stable isotopes of mercury to elucidate pathways of mercury inputs and transfer to biota. We are examining trends in mercury concentrations in fish in waters of New York with current PhD student Geoff Millard. At Honnedaga Lake watershed in the Adirondacks, we are examining the effects of liming on watershed mercury transport and transformations (Millard et al. 2018). We are conducting a study of mercury and methylmercury production across natural and constructed wetland types along the St. Lawrence River (with SU faculty member Dave Chandler, Ting Wang MS thesis).  Finally, with Dartmouth College we are examining the interactions between nutrient inputs and mercury in coastal waters of New York (SU Master’s student, Amy Shaw). Finally, I served as a guest editor for a series of synthesis papers on mercury science and policy developed from the International Conference of Mercury as a Global Pollutant which will be published in the journal Ambio.

There is currently considerable activity in mercury management. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) developed an international mercury treaty in 2013, the Minamata Convention, to control on mercury releases. The Minamata Convention entered into force in September 2018.

Mercury Biocomplexity project                  



Gerson, J. R., C. T. Driscoll, J. Demers, A. Sauer, B. Blackwell, M. Monstesdeoca, J. Shanley and D. Ross. 2017. Deposition of mercury in forests across a montane elevation gradient: elevational and seasonal patterns in methylmercury inputs and production. Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, 122(7):1922–1939. doi:10.1002/2016JG003721.

Millard, G., C. T. Driscoll, D. A. Burns, M. Montesdeoca and K. Riva-Murray.  2018. Response of mercury in an Adirondack, USA forest stream to watershed lime application. Environmental Sciences:Process and Impacts. 20:607-620. doi: 10.1039/C7EM00520B.