Mercury loading within the Selenga River basin and Lake Baikal, Siberia

S. Roberts (Corresponding author), J.K. Adams, A.W. Mackay, G.E.A. Swann, S. McGowan, N.L. Rose, V. Panizzo, H. Yang, E. Vologina, M. Sturm, A.A. Shchetnikov

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Mercury (Hg) loading in Lake Baikal, a UNESCO world heritage site, is growing and poses a serious health concern to the lake's ecosystem due to the ability of Hg to transform into a toxic form, known as methylmercury (MeHg). Monitoring of Hg into Lake Baikal is spatially and temporally sparse, highlighting the need for insights into historic Hg loading. This study reports measurements of Hg concentrations from water collected in August 2013 and 2014 from across Lake Baikal and its main inflow, the Selenga River basin (Russia, Mongolia). We also report historic Hg contamination using sediment cores taken from the south and north basins of Lake Baikal, and a shallow lake in the Selenga Delta. Field measurements from August 2013 and 2014 show high Hg concentrations in the Selenga Delta and river waters, in comparison to pelagic lake waters. Sediment cores from Lake Baikal show that Hg enrichment commenced first in the south basin in the late-19th century, and then in the north basin in the mid-20th century. Hg flux was also 20-fold greater in the south basin compared to the north basin sediments. Hg enrichment was greatest in the Selenga Delta shallow lake (Enrichment Ratio (ER) = 2.3 in 1994 CE), with enrichment occurring in the mid-to late-20th century. Local sources of Hg are predominantly from gold mining along the Selenga River, which have been expanding over the last few decades. More recently, another source is atmospheric deposition from industrial activity in Asia, due to rapid economic growth across the region since the 1980s. As Hg can bioaccumulate and biomagnify through trophic levels to Baikal's top consumer, the world's only truly freshwater seal (Pusa sibirica), it is vital that Hg input at Lake Baikal and within its catchment is monitored and controlled.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Lake sediments
  • Mercury
  • Mining


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