Finger Lakes Mercury Project

In 2015, the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) acquired a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to study mercury (Hg) dynamics in the Finger Lakes and their tributaries.

From May to October 2015, FLI and partners at the Finger Lakes Community College sampled several Finger Lakes for zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, and fish. Select streams were sampled for periphyton, macroinvertebrates and stream fish.

Project Overview

Mercury contamination of fish is of global concern due to the deleterious health effects in humans and wildlife associated with ingesting fish with elevated levels of this pollutant. The form of Hg that is of concern in freshwaters is the neurotoxicant methyl Hg, that biomagnifies in foodwebs. A key to understanding elevated fish Hg concentrations is to examine methyl Hg dynamics at the base of the foodweb; in lakes this includes algae and zooplankton and for streams this includes periphyton and macroinvertebrates. Concentrations of methyl Hg in Finger Lakes biota comprising the base of the aquatic foodweb are virtually unknown. The proposed work will help to fill this gap and will explore bioaccumulation of total and methyl Hg in aquatic biota in select Finger Lakes and sub-watersheds.

This project will help identify the fate of Hg pollution from energy generation in aquatic food webs of the Finger Lakes, and help inform future legislation on Hg pollution in New York State.

Project Collaborators

Dr. Lisa Cleckner – Director, Finger Lakes Institute. Dr. Cleckner’s research has frequently focused on pollutant dynamics primarily in lower trophic organisms including periphyton (Everglades), phytoplankton, and zooplankton (Great Lakes and Everglades).

Dr. Roxanne Razavi – Postdoctoral Researcher, Finger Lakes Institute. Dr. Razavi’s research experience has included studies of mercury bioavailability from contaminated sediments, and mercury biomagnification in freshwater food webs.

Dr. Susan Cushman – Research Scientist, Finger Lakes Institute. Dr. Cushman is an expert in fish and stream ecology, including benthic macroinvertebrate ecology.

Dr. John Halfman – Professor and Finger Lakes Institute Endowed Chair in Environmental Studies. Dr. Halfman conducts longstanding limnological and hydrogeochemical studies of the Finger Lakes, including the origin and fate of non-point source pollutants.

John Foust – Associate Professor, Finger Lakes Community College. Foust is an expert in fisheries and aquaculture, with special interests in the walleye communities of the Finger Lakes.

Dr. Bruce Gilman – Professor, Finger Lakes Community College. Dr. Gilman has a varied research program which includes water quality and macrophyte ecology of the Finger Lakes. 

Find out more about the Finger Lakes Mercury Project at conferences, seminars and workshops.

Recent Events

Public event: Ithaca Fishing and Conservation Day - Table display about mercury in the Finger Lakes and Cayuga Lake fishes. Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited, March 2017, Ithaca, NY

Talk: “Finger Lakes Mercury Project” by Dr. R. Razavi for the New York State Federation of Lake Associations Western Regional Meeting, October 2016, Cuba, NY

Talk: “Mercury dynamics in aquatic food webs of the Finger Lakes, New York” by Dr. R. Razavi for the Cornell Biological Field Station, July 2016, Shackelton Point, NY

Razavi, Cushman, Massey and Cleckner. Mercury accumulation in biota of tributaries of the Finger Lakes, New York. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. December 2016, San Francisco, CA

Cleckner, Razavi, Halfman, Cushman, Foust and Gilman. Mercury dyncamics in aquatic food webs of the Finger Lakes, New York. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. December 2016, San Francisco, CA

Gatch*, Razavi, Cleckner, Foust and Gilman. Age and size as predictors of mercury accumulation in lake trout from the Finger Lakes. Annual Meeting New York Chapter American Fisheries Society. February 2016, Cooperstown, NY

*HWS Alum, Alex Gatch (Hobart ’16)


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