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Climate change and watershed mercury export: a multiple projection and model analysis

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Address correspondence to golden.heather@epa.gov.

Abstract

Future shifts in climatic conditions may impact watershed mercury (Hg) dynamics and transport. An ensemble of watershed models was applied in the present study to simulate and evaluate the responses of hydrological and total Hg (THg) fluxes from the landscape to the watershed outlet and in-stream THg concentrations to contrasting climate change projections for a watershed in the southeastern coastal plain of the United States. Simulations were conducted under stationary atmospheric deposition and land cover conditions to explicitly evaluate the effect of projected precipitation and temperature on watershed Hg export (i.e., the flux of Hg at the watershed outlet). Based on downscaled inputs from 2 global circulation models that capture extremes of projected wet (Community Climate System Model, Ver 3 [CCSM3]) and dry (ECHAM4/HOPE-G [ECHO]) conditions for this region, watershed model simulation results suggest a decrease of approximately 19% in ensemble-averaged mean annual watershed THg fluxes using the ECHO climate-change model and an increase of approximately 5% in THg fluxes with the CCSM3 model. Ensemble-averaged mean annual ECHO in-stream THg concentrations increased 20%, while those of CCSM3 decreased by 9% between the baseline and projected simulation periods. Watershed model simulation results using both climate change models suggest that monthly watershed THg fluxes increase during the summer, when projected flow is higher than baseline conditions. The present study's multiple watershed model approach underscores the uncertainty associated with climate change response projections and their use in climate change management decisions. Thus, single-model predictions can be misleading, particularly in developmental stages of watershed Hg modeling. Environ Toxicol Chem 2013;32:2165–2174. © 2013 SETAC

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