Mercury (Hg) transport in streams is typically facilitated by dissolved organic matter (DOM), however, the dynamics of Hg and DOM during snowmelt in montane watersheds are poorly understood. Hg transport during snowmelt is widely recognized as a significant source of Hg to downstream lakes and reservoirs, such as Jordanelle Reservoir where fish consumption advisories are in effect due to elevated Hg concentrations in certain species of fish. For this study, total mercury (THg), methylmercury (MeHg), and DOM samples were collected at three sites in the upper Provo River, northern Utah, during the 2016 and 2017 water years. To evaluate Hg and DOM sources, samples were collected from snowpack and ephemeral streams in the watershed. In-situ fluorescent DOM (fDOM) data and other parameters were measured in the river to characterize high-frequency variation in water chemistry. Excitation-emissions matrices (EEMs) were used to determine changes in DOM characteristics during snowmelt. Hg concentrations increased in the upper Provo River from <1 ng/L during baseflow to >;7 ng/L during the snowmelt period (~April-July), with filtered THg concentrations approximately ~75% of the unfiltered concentrations. In the watershed, filtered THg concentrations ranged from ~0.4 ng/L in snowpack to ~8 ng/L in ephemeral streams. Annual THg loading from the Provo River to Jordanelle Reservoir was approximately 1 kg/yr with ~90% of the flux occurring during the snowmelt period. High correlations between filtered THg and fDOM allowed for the development of a high frequency filtered THg proxy using in-situ fDOM sensors. DOM characteristic during the snowmelt period showed that Hg transport was facilitated by humic substances which was sourced from upland soils. Fractions of filtered methylmercury (MeHg) and filtered THg (filtered MeHG:filtered THg) were ~0.1 during baseflow and reduced to ~0.01 during snowmelt, implying that snowmelt runoff has little impact on the MeHg flux to Jordanelle Reservoir. The results suggest that Hg and DOM are flushed from soils during snowmelt, and that a significant majority of the Hg flux occurs the snowmelt period. Our study has implications for understanding Hg sources and transport mechanisms in other snowmelt dominated watersheds.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type



Mercury, dissolved organic matter (DOM), fluorescent DOM (fDOM), snowmelt, ephemeral streams