The floodplains of the german river Elbe affect the mercury distribution in the river system in two different ways: they act both as a medium-term sink and as a long-term source. The large amounts of mercury deposited onto the floodplains during annual floodings are first effectively fixed in the soils, rendering them basically unavailable. Sequential extraction experiments reveal that only a small fraction of the mercury (< 3 %) is present in available forms, whereas the vast majority is associated with humic substances or present in sulfidic binding forms. After deposition, a small fraction of the total mercury is gradually remobilized into the aqueous phase bound passively to water-soluble humic acids. The availability of mercury in these complexes is still low, since environmental influences such as changes in pH or redox potential and competition with other cations do not cause any mercury liberation. In the next step, reactions in the aqueous phase lead to the formation of the highly available volatile species Hg° and dimethylmercury (DMM). Their evaporation gives rise to a strong mercury flux from the floodplains into the atmosphere. Preliminary mass balances indicate that the majority of the deposited mercury stays bound in the floodplain soils, while small amounts are emitted back into the river's ecosystem. Atmospheric emission is more important as a remobilization pathway than aquatic export.