Methylmercury cycling in sediments on the continental shelf of southern New England
Hammerschmidt, Chad R.
Fitzgerald, William F.
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Exposure of humans to monomethylmercury (MMHg) occurs primarily through consumption of marine fish, yet there is limited understanding concerning the bioaccumulation and biogeochemistry of MMHg in the biologically productive coastal ocean. We examined the cycling of MMHg in sediments at three locations on the continental shelf of southern New England in September 2003. MMHg in surface sediments is related positively to inorganic Hg (Hg(II)=total Hg-MMHg), the geographical distribution of which is influenced by organic material. Organic matter also largely controls the sediment-water partitioning of Hg species and governs the availability of dissolved Hg(II) for methylation. Potential gross rates of MMHg production, assayed by experimental addition of 200Hg to intact sediment cores, are correlated inversely with the distribution coefficient (KD) of Hg(II) and positively with the concentration of Hg(II), most probably as HgS0, in 0.2-µm filtered pore water of these low-sulfide deposits. Moreover, the efflux of dissolved MMHg to overlying water (i.e., net production at steady state) is correlated with the gross potential rate of MMHg production in surface sediments. These results suggest that the production and efflux of MMHg from coastal marine sediments is limited by Hg(II), loadings of which presumably are principally from atmospheric deposition to this region of the continental shelf. The estimated diffusive flux of MMHg from the shelf sediments averages 9 pmol m-2 d-1. This flux is comparable to that required to sustain the current rate of MMHg accumulation by marine fish, and may be enhanced by the efflux of MMHg from near-shore deposits contaminated more substantially with anthropogenic Hg. Hence, production and subsequent mobilization of MMHg from sediments in the coastal zone may be a major source of MMHg to the ocean and marine biota, including fishes consumed by humans.
Author Posting. © The Authors, 2005. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier B.V. for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 70 (2006): 918-930, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2005.10.020.