Mercury Cycling in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre as Revealed by Mercury Stable Isotope Ratios

Laura C. Motta, Joel D. Blum, Marcus W. Johnson, Blaire P. Umhau, Brian N. Popp, Spencer J. Washburn, Jeffrey C. Drazen, Claudia R. Benitez-Nelson, Cecelia C.S. Hannides, Hilary G. Close, Carl H. Lamborg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The oceans are an important global reservoir for mercury (Hg), and marine fish consumption is the dominant human exposure pathway for its toxic methylated form. A more thorough understanding of the global biogeochemical cycle of Hg requires additional information on the mechanisms that control Hg cycling in pelagic marine waters. In this study, Hg isotope ratios and total Hg concentrations are used to explore Hg biogeochemistry in oligotrophic marine environments north of Hawaii. We present the first measurements of the vertical water column distribution of Hg concentrations and the Hg isotopic composition in precipitation, marine particles, and zooplankton near Station ALOHA (22°45′N, 158°W). Our results reveal production and demethylation of methylmercury in both the euphotic (0–175 m) and mesopelagic zones (200–1,000 m). We document a strong relationship between Hg isotopic composition and depth in particles, zooplankton, and fish in the water column and diurnal variations in Δ199Hg values in zooplankton sampled near the surface (25 m). Based on these observations and stable Hg isotope relationships in the marine food web, we suggest that the Hg found in large pelagic fish at Station ALOHA was originally deposited largely by precipitation, transformed into methyl-Hg, and bioaccumulated in situ in the water column. Our results highlight how Hg isotopic compositions reflect abiotic and biotic production and degradation of methyl-Hg throughout the water column and the importance of particles and zooplankton in the vertical transport of Hg.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)777-794
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • demethylation
  • mercury
  • mercury at Station ALOHA
  • mercury bioaccumulation
  • mercury isotopes
  • methylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Mercury Cycling in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre as Revealed by Mercury Stable Isotope Ratios'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this