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Reconsidering the pre-industrial mercury cycle using lake sediment archives Open Access


Other title
lake sediment
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Cooke, Colin
Supervisor and department
Wolfe, Alexander (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
St.Louis, Vincent (Biological Sciences)
Douglas, Marianne (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Wayman, Michael (Chemical and Materials Engineering)
Lucotte, Marc (Centre GEOTOP, Université du Québec à Montréal)
Wolfe, Alexander (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Human activities have profoundly altered the biogeochemical cycle of many elements including mercury (Hg). Since ~1850 AD, industrial processes are suggested to have led to a 3-fold increase in Hg deposition above natural, pre-industrial levels. Despite extensive historical evidence for pre-industrial Hg extraction, there has been little evidence for any pre-industrial Hg pollution. This dissertation contains five research papers which critically investigate our understanding of pre-industrial Hg cycling using the geochemical record preserved in lake sediments. Pre-industrial Hg pollution has long been hypothesized on the basis of historical records but has never been proven. Using lake sediment cores from three regions in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, I show that pre-industrial Hg pollution resulted from a multitude of mineral-extractive activities including: (i) Colonial (1532-1900 AD) and pre-Colonial (pre-1532 AD) cinnabar (HgS) extraction (chapter 2); (ii) Colonial Hg amalgamation (chapter 3), and; (iii) pre-Colonial smelting of argentiferous ores (chapter 4). All three of these activities resulted in atmospheric Hg emissions, and Hg speciation analyses demonstrate that at least some of these emissions were transported long distances. Chapter 5 explores how sediment core chronologies influence the calculation of pre-industrial Hg accumulation rates (fluxes), and suggests 14C dates are necessary if accurate Hg flux histories are sought. Relying on 210Pb chronologies alone overestimates pre-industrial Hg fluxes, resulting in an underestimation in the degree to which human activities have altered the natural biogeochemical cycle of Hg. The final paper presented here (chapter 6) places 20th-century Arctic Hg enrichment in an unparalleled long-term, multi-proxy perspective using two unique paleolimnological records, both of which are from Baffin Island, Canada. These records span the Holocene at high resolution but also include sediment from the last and penultimate interglacials. 20th-century Hg fluxes at both lakes are shown to be >10 times higher than pre-industrial fluxes, and 20th-century Hg concentrations are exceeded during both the early Holocene and the early last-interglacial. These results suggest natural processes are capable of generating Hg burdens in lakes which exceed those associated with anthropogenic pollution.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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