The presence of toxic chemicals in remote waterbodies is not a new topic to the blog (see Contaminants Widespread in Our Waters and Toxins in the Mountains). In fact, the more this phenomenon is investigated, the more obvious it becomes that human fingerprints from industry, transportation, and power production are strongly imprinted on even our wildest wilderness.
Doctoral candidate Ariana Chiapella has spent the past few summers sampling mercury concentrations of food webs from remote sub-alpine and alpine lakes in National Parks and National Forests throughout Washington State. Although the levels of mercury in these systems are trace, the concentrations in organisms magnify up the food web. As a result, fish (the top predator) have surprisingly high mercury levels. Some preliminary evidence suggests that fish species, food availability, and lake size and temperature can affect mercury concentrations.
This project is part of an ongoing collaboration with the National Parks Service, and the results will be used to help inform lake management plans, in order to support the health of mountain lakes and their visitors. With the future of our environmental regulations looking dim, it will become increasingly important to understand how these toxic chemicals interact with their environment in these remote areas.
Check out the short film below to catch a glimpse of this project!