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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2008

Partitioning of Hg between solid and dissolved organic matter in the humus layer of boreal forests

Akerblom, Staffan; Meili, Markus; Bringmark, Lage; Johansson, Kjell; Kleja, Dan Berggren; Bergkvist, Bo


The mobility of mercury (Hg) deposited on soils controls the concentration and toxicity of Hg within soils and in nearby streams and lakes, but has rarely been quantified under field conditions. We studied the in situ partitioning of Hg in the organic top layer (mor) of podsols at two boreal forest sites differing in Hg deposition and climatic regime (S. and N. Sweden, with pollution declining to the north). Soil solution leaching from the mor layer was repeatedly sampled using zero-tension lysimeters over 2 years, partly in parallel with tension lysimeters. Concentrations of Hg and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) were higher while pH was lower at the southern site (means +/- SD: Hg=44 +/- 15 ng L-1, DOC=63.0 +/- 31.3 mg L-1, pH=4.05 +/- 0.53) than at the northern site (Hg=22 +/- 6 ng L-1, DOC=41.8 +/- 12.1 mg L-1, pH=4.28 +/- 0.43). There was a positive correlation over time between dissolved Hg and DOC at both sites, even though the DOC concentration peaked during autumn at both sites, while the Hg concentration remained more constant. This correlation is consistent with the expected strong association of Hg with organic matter and supports the use of Hg/C ratios in assessments of Hg mobility. In the solid phase of the overlying O-f layer, both Hg concentrations and Hg/C ratios were higher at the southern site (means +/- SD: 0.34 +/- 0.06 mu g g(-1) dw and 0.76 +/- 0.14 mu g g(-1) C, respectively) than at the northern site (0.31 +/- 0.05 mu g g(-1) dw and 0.70 +/- 0.12 mu g g(-1) C, respectively). However, concentrations in the solid phase differed less than might be expected from the difference in current atmospheric input, suggesting that the fraction of natural Hg is still substantial. At both sites, Hg/C ratios in the upper half of the mor layer were only about two thirds of those in the lower half, suggesting that the recent decrease in anthropogenic Hg deposition onto the soil is offset by a natural downward enrichment of Hg due to soil decomposition or other processes. Most interestingly, comparison with soil leachate showed that the average Hg/C ratios in the dissolved phase of the mor layers at both sites did not differ from the average Hg/C ratios in the overlying solid organic matter. These results indicate a simple mobilisation with negligible fractionation, despite differences in Hg deposition patterns, soil chemistry and climatic regimes. Such a straight-forward linkage between Hg and organic matter greatly facilitates the parameterisation of watershed models for assessing the biogeochemical fate, toxic effect and critical level of atmospheric Hg input to forest soils.


Hg; DOC; organic forest soil; critical load; lysimeter

Published in

Water, Air, and Soil Pollution
2008, volume: 189, number: 1-4, pages: 239-252
Publisher: SPRINGER

Authors' information

Åkerblom, Staffan
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Meili, Markus
Bringmark, Lage
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Johansson, Kjell
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil Sciences
Bergkvist, Bo

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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