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Water Research
Volume 212, 2022, 118059

Dam cascade unveils sediment methylmercury dynamics in reservoirs

Honghai Maa,c, Yuchen Chenc, Qiuwen Chena,b,c, Dongsheng Liuc, Jianyun Zhanga,b

State Key Laboratory of Hydrology-Water Resources & Hydraulic Engineering, Nanjing Hydraulic Research Institute, Nanjing, 210029, China.


Methylmercury (MeHg) can be bioaccumulated through food chains and adversely affect human health. Reservoirs are reported to stimulate MeHg production, however, the characteristics of MeHg dynamics in cascade reservoirs and the associated relations to sedimentation as well as reservoir properties remained unclear. Here we investigated sediment MeHg dynamics in eight cascade reservoirs in the upper Mekong River. We found significant differences in sediment MeHg concentration between the reservoirs, showing an increase with fluctuations along the reservoirs cascade. However, a novel relationship was found between sediment%MeHg (MeHg/Hg) and the ratio of reservoir hydraulic residence time (HRT) to reservoir age. This relationship is formed by the joint effects of the original deposit of Hg and organic carbon (OC) before impoundment and the subsequent sedimentation of Hg and OC after impoundment. The original deposit is continuously transformed as the reservoir ages, whereas the latter is driven by the annual hydrological cycle and HRT, of which the HRT is dominant. This finding cannot be easily revealed in a single reservoir or by comparing multiple reservoirs in different rivers. The discovery is of great significance to understand Hg geochemical cycling in reservoirs, which is quickly increasing in rivers worldwide.

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