Document Type

Research Data



Publication Date

Spring 3-15-2019


elemental mercury, evasion, microbes, methylmercury


Elemental mercury (Hg0) formation from other mercury species in seawater results from photoreduction and microbial activity, leading to possible evasion from seawater to overlying air. Microbial conversion of monomethylmercury (MeHg) to Hg0 in seawater remains unquantified. A rapid radioassay method was developed using gamma-emitting 203Hg as a tracer to evaluate Hg0 production from Hg(II) and MeHg in the low pM range. Bacterioplankton assemblages in Atlantic surface seawater and Long Island Sound water were found to rapidly produce Hg0, with production rate constants being directly related to bacterial biomass and independent of dissolved Hg(II) and MeHg concentrations. About 32% of Hg(II) and 19% of MeHg were converted to Hg0 in 4 d in Atlantic surface seawater containing low-bacterial biomass, and in Long Island Sound water with higher bacterial biomass, 54% of Hg(II) and 8% of MeHg were transformed to Hg0. Decreasing temperatures from 24C to 4C reduced Hg0 production rates cell−1 from Hg(II) 3.3 times as much as from a MeHg source. Because Hg0 production rates were linearly related to microbial biomass and temperature, and microbial mercuric reductase was detected in our field samples, we inferred that microbial metabolic activities and enzymatic reactions primarily govern Hg0 formation in subsurface waters where light penetration is diminished.


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