Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and cycles among the atmosphere, water, and sediments. Human activities such as coal burning power plants and waste incineration increase the amount of mercury cycling in the environment. Since the industrial revolution, anthropogenic mercury emissions have increased atmospheric mercury levels about threefold, causing corresponding increases in mercury levels in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Mercury that is released into the atmosphere can be transported long distances and deposited in aquatic ecosystems, where it is methylated to methylmercury. Mercury is a neurotoxicant, to which the human fetus is very sensitive. Methylmercury is an organic form of mercury, the most toxic form, and the form that bioaccumulates in fish. Wildlife and humans are exposed primarily through consumption of contaminated fish. The factors that make some aquatic ecosystems susceptible to this bioaccumulation, however, are unknown, making protection of human health and the health of fish-eating wildlife a challenge.
Research focuses on the processes of mercury methylation and accumulation in aquatic ecosystems, factors that determine ecosystem susceptibility, and investigation of whether reduced emissions will reduce mercury accumulation in susceptible ecosystems.
- National and Regional Assessments of Mercury Occurrence and Cycling in the Environment
- Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loading in Canada and the United States (METAALICUS)
- Mercury Cycling in Aquatic Ecosystems
Aquatic ecosystems across the Nation are being studied to identify the factors
that control where and when mercury accumulates to toxic levels in the food chain
Program Headlines Related to Mercury Research
More information on Mercury Research
- Mercury cycling in agricultural and managed wetlands of California, USA--Experimental evidence of vegetation-driven changes in sediment biogeochemistry and methylmercury production: Windham-Myers, L., Marvin-DiPasquale, M., A. Stricker, C., Agee, J.L., H. Kieu, L., and Kakouros, E., Science of the Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.05.028 (IN PRESS).
- Mercury cycling in agricultural and managed wetlands of California, USA--Seasonal influences of vegetation on mercury methylation, storage, and transport: Windham-Myers, L., Marvin-DiPasquale, M., Kakouros, E., Agee, J.L., Kieu, L.H., Stricker, C.A., Fleck, J.A., and Ackerman, J.T., Science of the Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.05.027 (IN PRESS).
- Global change and mercury: Krabbenhoft, D.P., and Sunderland, E.M., 2013, Science, v. 341, no. 6153, p. 1457-1458, doi:10.1126/science.1242838.
- Climate change and watershed mercury export--A multiple projection and model analysis: Golden, H.E., Knightes, C.D., Conrads, P.A., Feaster, T.D., Davis, G.M., Benedict, S.T., and Bradley, P.M., 2013, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 32, no. 9, p. 2165-2174, doi:10.1002/etc.2284.
- Arsenic and mercury in the soils of an industrial city in the Donets Basin, Ukraine: Conko, K.M., Landa, E.R., Kolker, A., Kozlov, K., Gibb, H.J., Centeno, J.A., Panov, B.S., and Panov, Y.B., 2013, Soil and Sediment Contamination--An International Journal, v. 22, no. 5, p. 574-593, doi:10.1080/15320383.2013.750270.
- Optimizing stream water mercury sampling for calculation of fish bioaccumulation factors: Riva-Murray, K., Bradley, P.M., Scudder Eikenberry, B.C., Knightes, C.D., Journey, C.A., Brigham, M.E., and Button, D.T., 2013, Environmental Science and Technology, doi:10.1021/es303758e (Advanced Web release).