Mercury speciation in surface and deep waters of the Mediterranean Sea

Author: Kotnik, J.; Horvat, M.; Tessier, E.; Ogrinc, N.; Monperrus, M.; Amouroux, D.; Fajon, V.; Gibicar, D.; Zizek, S.; Sprovieri, F.; Pirrone, N.

Description: Mercury speciation and its distribution in surface and deep waters of the Mediterranean Sea were studied during two oceanographic cruises on board the Italian research vessel URANIA in summer 2003 and spring 2004 as part of the Med Oceaneor and MERCYMS projects. The study included deep water profiles of dissolved gaseous Hg (DGM), reactive Hg (RHg), total Hg (THg), monomethyl Hg (MeHg) and dimethyl Hg (DMeHg) in open ocean waters. Average concentrations of measured Hg species were characterized by seasonal and spatial variations. Overall average THg concentrations ranged between 0.41 and 2.65 pM (1.32 ± 0.48 pM) and were comparable to those obtained in previous studies of the Mediterranean Sea. A significant fraction of Hg was present as “reactive” Hg (average 0.33 ± 0.32 pM). Dissolved gaseous Hg (DGM), which consists mainly of Hg0, represents a considerable proportion of THg (average 20%, 0.23 ± 0.11 pM). The portion of DGM typically increased towards the bottom, especially in areas with strong tectonic activity (Alboran Sea, Strait of Sicily, Tyrrhenian Sea), indicating its geotectonic origin. No dimethyl Hg was found in surface waters down to the depth of 40 m. Below this depth, its average concentration was 2.67 ± 2.9 fM. Dissolved fractions of total Hg and MeHg were measured in filtered water samples and were 0.68 ± 0.43 pM and 0.29 ± 0.17 pM for THg and MeHg respectively. The fraction of Hg as MeHg was in average 43%, which is relatively high compared to other ocean environments. The concentrations reported in this study are among the lowest found in marine environments and the quality of analytical methods are of key importance. Speciation of Hg in sea water is of crucial importance as THg concentrations alone do not give adequate data for understanding Hg sources and cycling in marine environments. For example, photoinduced transformations are important for the presence of reactive and elemental mercury in the surface layers, biologically mediated reactions are important for the production/degradation of MeHg and DGM in the photic zones of the water column, and the data for DGM in deep sea indicate the natural sources of Hg in geotectonicaly active areas of the Mediterranean Sea.

Subject headings: Mercury; Speciation; Distribution; Deep water profiles; Mediterranean Sea

Publication year: 2007

Journal or book title: Marine Chemistry

Volume: 107

Issue: 1

Pages: 13-30

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 1067