Measuring mercury in wood: challenging but important

Yang Yang, Ruth D. Yanai, Mario Montesdeoca, Charles T. Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Mercury (Hg) in tree wood has been overlooked, in part because concentrations are so low as to be below detection limits of some analytical methods, but it is potentially important to forest ecosystem processes and budgets. We tested methods for the preparation and determination of Hg in tree wood by analysing samples of four tree species at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA, using thermal decomposition, catalytic conversion, amalgamation and atomic absorption spectrophotometry (USEPA Method 7473). Samples that were freeze-dried or oven-dried at 65°C were suitable for determination of Hg, whereas oven-drying at 103°C resulted in Hg losses, and air-drying resulted in Hg gains, presumably due to sorption from indoor air. Mean (±SE) concentrations of Hg tree bole wood were 1.75 ± 0.14 ng g−1 for American beech, 1.48 ± 0.23 ng g−1 for sugar maple, 3.96 ± 0.19 ng g−1 for red spruce and 4.59 ± 0.06 ng g−1 for balsam fir. Based on these concentrations and estimates of wood biomass by species based on stand inventory, we estimated the Hg content of wood in the reference watershed at Hubbard Brook to be 0.32 g ha−1, twice the size of the foliar Hg pool (0.15 g ha−1). Mercury in wood deserves more attention and is feasible to measure using appropriate techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-467
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 9 2017


  • Abies balsamea (L.) Mill
  • Acer saccharum Marsh
  • Fagus grandifolia Ehrh
  • Picea rubens Sarg
  • sample preparation
  • wood mercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Soil Science
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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