Sediment cores obtained from 11 tropical and subtropical American lakes revealed that local human activities significantly increased mercury (Hg) inputs and pollution levels. Remote lakes also have been contaminated by anthropogenic Hg through atmospheric depositions. Long-term sediment-core profiles revealed an approximately 3-fold increase in Hg fluxes to sediments from c. 1850 to 2000. Generalized additive models indicate that c. 3-fold increases in Hg fluxes also occurred since 2000 in the remote sites, while Hg emissions from anthropogenic sources have remained relatively stable. The tropical and subtropical Americas are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Air temperatures in this region have shown a marked increase since the 1990s, and extreme weather events arising from climate change have increased. When comparing Hg fluxes to recent (1950-2016) climatic changes, results show marked increases in Hg fluxes to sediments during dry periods. The Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) time series indicate a tendency toward more extreme drier conditions across the study region since the mid-1990s, suggesting that instabilities in catchment surfaces caused by climate change are responsible for the elevated Hg flux rates. Drier conditions since c. 2000 appear to be promoting Hg fluxes from catchments to lakes, a process that will likely be exacerbated under future climate-change scenarios.
Keywords: atmospheric deposition; climate impact; human impact; lake sediments; pollutants; secondary pollution; subtropics; tropics.