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Mercury and methylmercury dynamics in the hyporheic zone of an Oregon stream

March 24, 2014

The role of the hyporheic zone in mercury (Hg) cycling has received limited attention despite the biogeochemically active nature of this zone and, thus, its potential to influence Hg behavior in streams. An assessment of Hg geochemistry in the hyporheic zone of a coarse-grained island in the Coast Fork Willamette River in Oregon, USA, illustrates the spatially dynamic nature of this region of the stream channel for Hg mobilization and attenuation. Hyporheic flow through the island was evident from the water-table geometry and supported by hyporheic-zone chemistry distinct from that of the bounding groundwater system. Redox-indicator species changed abruptly along a transect through the hyporheic zone, indicating a biogeochemically reactive stream/hyporheic-zone continuum. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total Hg, and methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations increased in the upgradient portion of the hyporheic zone and decreased in the downgradient region. Total Hg (collected in 2002 and 2003) and MeHg (collected in 2003) were correlated with DOC in hyporheic-zone samples: r2=0.63 (total Hg-DOC, 2002), 0.73 (total Hg-DOC, 2003), and 0.94 (MeHg-DOC, 2003). Weaker Hg/DOC association in late summer 2002 than in early summer 2003 may reflect seasonal differences in DOC reactivity. Observed correlations between DOC and both total Hg and MeHg reflect the importance of DOC for Hg mobilization, transport, and fate in this hyporheic zone. Correlations with DOC provide a framework for conceptualizing and quantifying Hg and MeHg dynamics in this region of the stream channel, and provide a refined conceptual model of the role hyporheic zones may play in aquatic ecosystems.