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Mercury and methylmercury stream concentrations in a Coastal Plain watershed: A multi-scale simulation analysis

January 1, 2015

Mercury is a ubiquitous global environmental toxicant responsible for most US fish advisories. Processes governing mercury concentrations in rivers and streams are not well understood, particularly at multiple spatial scales. We investigate how insights gained from reach-scale mercury data and model simulations can be applied at broader watershed scales using a spatially and temporally explicit watershed hydrology and biogeochemical cycling model, VELMA. We simulate fate and transport using reach-scale (0.1 km2) study data and evaluate applications to multiple watershed scales. Reach-scale VELMA parameterization was applied to two nested sub-watersheds (28 km2 and 25 km2) and the encompassing watershed (79 km2). Results demonstrate that simulated flow and total mercury concentrations compare reasonably to observations at different scales, but simulated methylmercury concentrations are out-of-phase with observations. These findings suggest that intricacies of methylmercury biogeochemical cycling and transport are under-represented in VELMA and underscore the complexity of simulating mercury fate and transport.