Great Lakes residents are familiar with warnings about high mercury levels in local fish. Where that mercury comes from and how it makes its way into the Great Lakes is not well understood. The University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) is increasing its focus on environmental mercury with two new ventures.

Most of the mercury found in fish first entered the water through falling rain or snow. A recent agreement with the National Atmospheric Deposition Program's Mercury Deposition Network (MDN) makes the U-M Biological Station (UMBS) an official monitor of precipitated mercury.

"Michigan’s lower peninsula had no MDN sites until now," says UMBS Director Knute Nadelhoffer.  Both UMBS, near the tip of the lower peninsula, and Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station in southwest Michigan are joining the network.  

"This builds on work that [U-M School of Public Health Professor] Jerry Keeler and his group did before his untimely death in 2011," says Nadelhoffer. Keeler's research group was collecting and analyzing deposition samples at UMBS. The Station hopes to connect these data with MDN's long-term records.

Further strengthening the Biological Station's ability to study environmental mercury is the addition of Assistant Research Scientist Paul Drevnick to the staff. Drevnick is a joint hire with U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment. He joins Lucas Nave as the second of three faculty research positions UMBS is developing as joint appointments with other UM units. Nadelhoffer says, "Our aim is to increase research capacity by bringing science expertise in terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric systems to the Biological Station and partnering units across campus."

Drevnick received his Ph.D. from Miami University. His dissertation research focused on mercury-sulfur interactions in the inland lakes of the Great Lakes, including on Isle Royale and at UMBS. Following a postdoc at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Drevnick served as an assistant professor at a water sciences institute at the University of Quebec.  He says he is "ecstatic to be moving to the vibrant academic community of UM," to be returning to the heart of the Great Lakes, and to contribute to solving water problems.

The Mercury Deposition Network sampling process involves standardized chemistry collectors and gages. UMBS Resident Biologist Bob Vande Kopple will handle the collections. Per MDN protocol, he will retrieve the sample weekly, or daily within 24 hours of precipitation. All MDN samples are sent to a Seattle laboratory where mercury concentrations below 1 part per trillion can be detected.