Exposure radius of a local coal mine in an Arctic coastal system; correlation between PAHs and mercury as a marker for a local mercury source

Steenhuisen, Frits; Heuvel-Greve, Martine van den


Mercury in the Arctic originates from emissions and releases at lower latitudes and, to a lesser extent, from local and regional sources. The relationship between mercury (Hg) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediment can be applied as an indicator of the mercury source. This research examines the Hg contamination gradient from a land-based coal mine to the surrounding coastal environment to quantify the impact of local sources. Total mercury and PAH (Σ14PAH) were measured in terrestrial and marine sediments as well as in marine biota. Samples were collected at the mine and two reference sites. Mercury and Σ14PAH concentrations in samples collected at the mine site were significantly higher than those at the reference sites. This was also found in the biota samples, although less pronounced. This work addresses the complexities of interpreting data concerning very low contaminant levels in a relatively pristine environment. A clear correlation between PAH and Hg concentration in sediment was found, although a large number of samples had levels below detection limits. PAH profiles, hierarchical clustering, and molecular diagnostic ratios provided further insight into the origin of PAHs and Hg, showing that signatures in sediments from the nearest reference site were more similar to the mine, which was not the case for the other reference site. The observed exposure radius from the mine was small and diluted from land to water to marine biota. Due to low contamination levels and variable PAH profiles, marine biota was less suitable for tracing the exposure radius for this local land-based Hg source. With an expected increase in mobility and availability of contaminants in the warming Arctic, changes in input of PAHs and Hg from land-based sources to the marine system need close monitoring. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].