Mercury in Watersheds

Our research began in 2008 with teacher and student investigations of mercury biogeochemistry. In the northeastern US, mercury is found at levels of concern in many parts of the environment: lakes, streams, soils, biota – like fish – and even people. Our project today investigates mercury concentrations in these subjects and looks for good indicators of mercury status. We are currently studying mercury in dragonfly larvae. In this project teachers and students from around New England - and some around the country - work with Dr. Sarah Nelson from University of Maine’s Mitchell Center and School of Forest Resources and Dr. Celia Chen from Dartmouth College. Recently, students and citizen scientists around the U.S. have begun working on this project with staff and scientists from national parks. Read more about that project here.

Mercury is a natural element but is found in elevated levels in Maine and many locations across the country due largely to fossil fuel emissions. Scientists are unable to reliably predict which lakes or streams might have high or low Hg because it has a complex cycle both in the atmosphere and once it deposits in watersheds. Within a waterbody, mercury becomes entrained in food chains and accumulates in fish and other organisms, with health implications for humans and wildlife. Our collaborative student citizen science research is using dragonfly larvae to help understand which types of waterbodies are at greater risk for mercury in foodwebs. 

For more information about the project, and student research from Old Town High School, read the UMaine Today article "Sentinel Species" and watch the companion video