Dynamic mercury methylation and demethylation in oligotrophic marine water

Kathleen M. Munson, Carl H. Lamborg, Rene M. Boiteau, Mak A. Saito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Mercury bioaccumulation in open-ocean food webs depends on the net rate of inorganic mercury conversion to monomethylmercury in the water column. We measured significant methylation rates across large gradients in oxygen utilization in the oligotrophic central Pacific Ocean. Overall, methylation rates over 24 h incubation periods were comparable to those previously published from Arctic and Mediterranean waters despite differences in productivity between these marine environments. In contrast to previous studies that have attributed Hg methylation to heterotrophic bacteria, we measured higher methylation rates in filtered water compared to unfiltered water. Furthermore, we observed enhanced demethylation of newly produced methylated mercury in incubations of unfiltered water relative to filtered water. The addition of station-specific bulk filtered particulate matter, a source of inorganic mercury substrate and other possibly influential compounds, did not stimulate sustained methylation, although transient enhancement of methylation occurred within 8 h of addition. The addition of dissolved inorganic cobalt also produced dramatic, if transient, increases in mercury methylation. Our results suggest important roles for noncellular or extracellular methylation mechanisms and demethylation in determining methylated mercury concentrations in marine oligotrophic waters. Methylation and demethylation occur dynamically in the open-ocean water column, even in regions with low accumulation of methylated mercury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6451-6460
Number of pages10
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018
Externally publishedYes

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© 2018 Author(s).


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