Published Date2020-02-20
JournalThe Science of the total environment, 2020-02-20, Volume 704 Find other publications in this journal
Author Info
  • Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA.
  • Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA. Electronic address:
  • Department of Life Sciences and Arts: Biological Station, University of Michigan, Pellston, MI, USA.
  • Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA.


The mechanisms of Hg and dissolved organic matter (DOM) transport from watersheds to streams remain unclear, especially in snowmelt dominated montane systems. We characterized total Hg concentrations and DOM characteristics during snowmelt by weekly and/or monthly sampling at three locations in the upper Provo River, northern Utah, over two water years (2016 and 2017). Total Hg concentrations increased from <1 ng/L during baseflow to >7 ng/L during the snowmelt period (April-June), with decreasing concentrations from upstream to downstream. Filtered THg concentrations accounted for 65-75% of the unfiltered concentrations, suggesting that Hg is primarily transported in the dissolved phase. Annual THg loading in the upper Provo River was approximately 1 kg/yr, with ~90% of the flux occurring during the snowmelt period. Filtered THg concentrations were strongly correlated with in-situ fluorescence DOM (fDOM) measurements, allowing for the development of high-resolution proxy THg concentrations. Further, DOM characteristics, evaluated using excitation-emission matrices (EEMs) and parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC), identified the dominance of soil humic and fulvic acid fractions of DOM during runoff. Total Hg concentrations were low in snowpack but elevated in ephemeral streams during snowmelt runoff, indicating that Hg originated from shallow soil water rather than snow. Concentration-discharge relationships revealed clockwise hysteresis patterns, suggesting that Hg was flushed from soils on the rising limb of the hydrograph. Our results demonstrate that a majority of Hg transport occurs with a flux of DOM during the short snowmelt season as shallow soils are flushed by meltwater. The snowmelt-driven Hg pulse is a substantial source to downstream reservoirs and potentially contributes to a fish consumption advisory.