Mercury and carbon in marine pelagic zooplankton: linkage with oceanographic processes in the Canadian High Arctic

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Pomerleau, Corinne
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This thesis investigates the relationships between mercury (Hg) and stable isotope of carbon (δ13C) in marine pelagic zooplankton (Calanus spp., Themisto spp. and Euchaeta spp.) with water mass characteristics in the North Water Polynya (NOW) and in the Mackenzie shelf – Amundsen Gulf area. Two ship based sampling field expeditions were carried out in late summer of 2005 and 2006 in both regions on board the CCGS Amundsen. In the North Water (NOW) polynya, higher levels of water Hg, depleted δ18O, lower salinity and lower nitrate levels were measured at sampling locations near the Prince of Wales glacier (POW) on the eastern coast of Ellesmere Island in the Smith Sound area. These results suggest that the glacier may be a source of Hg to this region which, in turn, is responsible for the correspondingly high concentrations of THg and MMHg measured in Calanus spp. and Euchaeta spp. at the same locations. The Mackenzie shelf – Amundsen Gulf region was characterized by fresher surface water properties (low salinity and depleted δ18O) in the western part and was strongly linked to the influence of the Mackenzie River. Higher THg concentrations in zooplankton were associated with larger fractions of both meteoric water and sea-ice melt. These findings suggest that in the western Arctic, inorganic Hg uptake in zooplankton via-absorption near surface water was highly driven by freshwater inputs into the system. Based on the analysis of three main genus Calanus spp. (mostly adult females Calanus hyperboreus), Euchaeta spp. and Themisto spp. (mostly adult Themisto libellula), THg and MMHg concentrations were the highest in the carnivorous copepod Euchaeta spp. in the North Water polynya followed by the omnivorous hyperiid amphipod Themisto spp. The herbivorous copepod Calanus spp. had both the lowest THg and MMHg concentrations in the Eastern and the Western Arctic. In addition, the Western Arctic is the area in which each zooplankton genus had the most depleted carbon and the most enriched nitrogen. The highest concentrations of THg in Calanus spp., Euchaeta spp. and Themisto spp. were measured in the Western Arctic as well as the highest MMHg in Calanus spp. and Themisto spp. The highest %MMHg was calculated in the Archipelago for Themisto spp., in the Eastern Arctic for Euchaeta spp. and in the Western Arctic for Calanus spp. The relationships observed between THg, MMHg, %MMHg and δ13C in all three major zooplankton taxa and water mass properties were in agreement with what have been previously described in the literature. Our findings suggested that both Hg and δ13C can be used as tracers to help understand zooplankton vertical distribution, feeding ecology and ultimately to predict climate changes impact at lower trophic level in the pelagic food web. The implications for marine mammals foraging in these regions are also discussed.
mercury, zooplankton, stable isotope, High Arctic