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Environ Res. 2012 Nov;119:101-17. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2012.03.013. Epub 2012 May 3.

Mercury biogeochemical cycling in the ocean and policy implications.

Author information

1
Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut, 1080 Shennecossett Road, Groton, CT 06340, USA. robert.mason@uconn.edu

Abstract

Anthropogenic activities have enriched mercury in the biosphere by at least a factor of three, leading to increases in total mercury (Hg) in the surface ocean. However, the impacts on ocean fish and associated trends in human exposure as a result of such changes are less clear. Here we review our understanding of global mass budgets for both inorganic and methylated Hg species in ocean seawater. We consider external inputs from atmospheric deposition and rivers as well as internal production of monomethylmercury (CH₃Hg) and dimethylmercury ((CH₃)₂Hg). Impacts of large-scale ocean circulation and vertical transport processes on Hg distribution throughout the water column and how this influences bioaccumulation into ocean food chains are also discussed. Our analysis suggests that while atmospheric deposition is the main source of inorganic Hg to open ocean systems, most of the CH₃Hg accumulating in ocean fish is derived from in situ production within the upper waters (<1000 m). An analysis of the available data suggests that concentrations in the various ocean basins are changing at different rates due to differences in atmospheric loading and that the deeper waters of the oceans are responding slowly to changes in atmospheric Hg inputs. Most biological exposures occur in the upper ocean and therefore should respond over years to decades to changes in atmospheric mercury inputs achieved by regulatory control strategies. Migratory pelagic fish such as tuna and swordfish are an important component of CH₃Hg exposure for many human populations and therefore any reduction in anthropogenic releases of Hg and associated deposition to the ocean will result in a decline in human exposure and risk.

PMID:
22559948
PMCID:
PMC3427470
DOI:
10.1016/j.envres.2012.03.013
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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