Abstract

In sediments collected from the Saguenay fjord, the St. Lawrence estuary, and open Gulf of St. Lawrence, total mercury varies with sediment texture and location from 10 to 12 300 ppb (average 386 ppb). The highest concentrations occur in the Saguenay fjord (average 2980 ppb) and the lowest in the open Gulf of St. Lawrence (average 150 ppb). The concentration of mercury increases with decreasing grain size, the highest concentrations occur in the fine-grained sediments of the submarine troughs and shelf valleys and the lowest in the sandy shelf sediments. Analyses of the sediments from the Saguenay fjord, where mercury values range from 12 300 ppb at its head to > 500 ppb in the lower reaches, indicate that most of the mercury (70 to 90% of the total) is held by the organic matter in the sediments. The distribution of mercury in the fjord is apparently controlled by the downstream dispersal from local industrial sources of mercury-rich organic matter, most likely of terrestrial origin because of its high C/N ratio. In the St. Lawrence estuary where mercury values range from 30 to 950 ppb, and in the open Gulf where correlations between variables are lower and scattered anomalies exist, analyses indicate that mercury accumulates along with the fine-grained inorganic and organic matter in response to the present depositional processes. The distribution of mercury appears to be controlled by the sedimentation pattern. Terrestrial organic matter and industrial waste originating in the Saguenay drainage area have the strongest influence on its distribution.

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