Whole Ecosystem Project Management

Reed Harris Environmental Ltd. is currently managing a whole ecosystem mercury addition experiment (METAALICUS) in Ontario, Canada. The project has involved  18 principal investigators and up to 50 researchers on site during peak periods, from institutions across North America.   The project includes researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Freshwater Institute, Winnipeg), University of Alberta, Trent University, University of Montreal, US Geological Survey, US Department of Energy, University of Wisconsin, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

METAALICUS is designed to demonstrate the extent to which changes in atmospheric deposition affect fish mercury levels in lakes.   This relationship is very difficult to predict from existing field datasets, because many factors in addition to deposition affect fish mercury concentrations.

METAALICUS is being conducted in the Lake 658 catchment at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), Ontario.  Stable mercury isotopes were added to the lake and its watershed from 2001-2007. Stable isotopes make it possible to follow new experimental mercury deposition separately from the stored pools.  Because the wetland, upland and lake were expected to respond differently to changes in mercury loading, different isotopes were applied to each area.

METAALICUS results confirm a direct link between mercury deposition and fish mercury concentrations (Harris et al. 2007a).  Mercury deposited directly to the lake surface quickly began to be converted to methylmercury and accumulate in biota.  In contrast, delivery of mercury deposited on the terrestrial system was delayed considerably to the lake.  After 7 years, essentially all of the increase in fish mercury concentrations (~ 50% increase in some species) originated from mercury deposited directly to the lake surface.  The project is now studying the decline of fish mercury levels after mercury additions stopped.

Funding for the project has been provided by both the private and public sectors in Canada in the US, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Electric Power Research Institute, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Canada, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation (NSF), Southern Company, and Wisconsin Focus on Energy Program.