Deposition of mercury in forests across a montane elevation gradient: Elevational and seasonal patterns in methylmercury inputs and production

Jacqueline R. Gerson, Charles T. Driscoll, Jason D. Demers, Amy K. Sauer, Bradley D. Blackwell, Mario R. Montesdeoca, James B. Shanley, Donald S. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Global mercury contamination largely results from direct primary atmospheric and secondary legacy emissions, which can be deposited to ecosystems, converted to methylmercury, and bioaccumulated along food chains. We examined organic horizon soil samples collected across an elevational gradient on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack region of New York State, USA to determine spatial patterns in methylmercury concentrations across a forested montane landscape. We found that soil methylmercury concentrations were highest in the midelevation coniferous zone (0.39 ± 0.07 ng/g) compared to the higher elevation alpine zone (0.28 ± 0.04 ng/g) and particularly the lower elevation deciduous zone (0.17 ± 0.02 ng/g), while the percent of total mercury as methylmercury in soils decreased with elevation. We also found a seasonal pattern in soil methylmercury concentrations, with peak methylmercury values occurring in July. Given elevational patterns in temperature and bioavailable total mercury (derived from mineralization of soil organic matter), soil methylmercury concentrations appear to be driven by soil processing of ionic Hg, as opposed to atmospheric deposition of methylmercury. These methylmercury results are consistent with spatial patterns of mercury concentrations in songbird species observed from other studies, suggesting that future declines in mercury emissions could be important for reducing exposure of mercury to montane avian species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1922-1939
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Adirondacks
  • deposition
  • forests
  • mercury
  • methylmercury
  • mountain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology

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