Simulating methylmercury production and transport at the sediment‐water interface to improve the water quality in the Delta

Start/End: January, 2018 to January, 2020

Mercury pollution in the Bay-Delta is deep-rooted, dating back to the California Gold Rush. Elevated levels of methylmercury—a dangerous form of the chemical that gets concentrated as it moves up the food web—have been seen in fish and birds, including sport fish. To protect wildlife and human health, resource managers need to understand the biogeochemical pathways that mercury undergoes in the environment, and how environmental conditions influence the formation of methylmercury.

The main goal of this project is to improve our ability to quantify mercury transformation processes in sediments and the transport of mercury species from the sediments to the overlying water column.

This project aims to:

  1. Improve the ability to quantify net methylmercury production under different environmental conditions by developing a kinetic-thermodynamic reaction model.
  2. Improve the ability to quantify transport of methylmercury and mercury species from the sediment to the overlying water column by extending the reaction model to include one-dimensional transport of dissolved species and particulate matter.

This research will provide a better understanding of mercury cycling and mercury methylation to resource managers at the United States Geological Service and other local, state, and federal agencies.

Research Mentor: Peggy O’Day, University of California Merced
Community Mentor: Charles Alpers, USGS California Water Science Center