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The impact of over 100 years of wildfires on mercury levels and accumulation rates in two lakes in southern California, USA


In southern California, USA, wildfires may be an important source of mercury (Hg) to local watersheds. Hg levels and Hg accumulation rates were investigated in dated sediment cores from two southern California lakes, Big Bear Lake and Crystal Lake, located approximately 40-km apart. Between 1895 and 2006, fires were routinely minimized or suppressed around Big Bear Lake, while fires regularly subsumed the forest surrounding Crystal Lake. Mean Hg concentrations and mean Hg accumulation rates were significantly higher in Crystal Lake sediments compared to Big Bear Lake sediments (Hg levels: Crystal Lake 220 ± 93 ng g−1, Big Bear Lake 92 ± 26 ng g−1; Hg accumulation: Crystal Lake 790 ± 1,200 μg m−2 year−1, Big Bear 240 ± 54 μg m−2 year−1). In Crystal Lake, the ratio between post-1965 and pre-1865 Hg concentrations was 1.1, and several spikes in Hg levels occurred between 1910 and 1985. Given the remote location of the lake, the proximity of fires, and the lack of point sources within the region, these results suggested wildfires (rather than industrial sources) were a continuous source of Hg to Crystal Lake over the last 150 years.

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