Abstract

Total mercury has been analysed in the surface 3 cm of sediment taken from 287 sample stations on an 8 km grid on Lake Ontario during 1968. The mercury distribution shows well-defined trends which can be related to sediment type; the concentration of mercury increasing from the shallow nearshore coarse sediments outwards, into the central, deep-water basin sediments composed of fine silty clays and clays. The average concentration of mercury in the nearshore sediments is 355 ppb, in the basin sediments 997 ppb and the average for the whole lake is 651 ppb. Regions of high mercury concentration (in the order of 2000 ppb) occur along the southern margin of the main lake basin and in the western (Niagara) basin of the lake. The dispersion pathways of these two regions point to the Niagara River as the prime source of mercury input to Lake Ontario. Most of this mercury is believed to be of industrial origin. An additional area of high mercury concentration with values up to 20 000 ppb, occurs at the eastern end of Lake Ontario (Kingston Basin) in the region of the lake close to the outlet to the St. Lawrence River. These high values in organic-rich, fine sediments are likely related to processes of biological concentration. The concentrations of mercury observed in the recent sediments of Lake Ontario can be accounted for by an average minimum daily input of 125 lb (56.7 kg) of mercury of which an estimated 42 lb (19.0 kg) is of natural origin and the remaining 83 lb (37.6 kg) is from industrial sources. The vertical distribution of mercury in a selected sediment core suggests that industrial mercury input commenced about the turn of the century, rose rapidly to circa 1943 and, since then, has shown a slow but continued rise to the time of core retrieval in 1970.

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