For the new research, the UH Manoa team worked closely with colleagues at the University of Michigan who used a highly sophisticated mass spectrometer to measure the stable isotopic compositions of mercury in nine species of marine fish that feed at different depths, including six predator fish and three prey fish.
Their analysis showed that chemical reactions driven by sunlight destroy up to 80 percent of monomethylmercury in the well-lit upper depths of the central North Pacific Ocean near Hawai'i. The scientists also determined that a significant amount of monomethylmercury must be formed and enter marine food webs in oxygen-poor, deeper waters.
The Michigan researchers had previously recorded mercury isotope measurements on fish in the Gulf of Mexico that suggested that up to 50 percent of monomethylmercury was destroyed by photochemical reactions before it was taken up by yellowfin and blackfin tuna living offshore.
In Hawaii, the conditions were differentand betterfor this type of analysis. "The crystal-clear waters surrounding Hawai'i and the unique information that we had about the depths at which our local fish feed allowed us to clearly identify both the photochemical degradation of monomethylmercury at surface levels and the microbial production of monomethylmercury from inorganic mercury in deeper waters," Popp said.
The finding that mercury is being converted to its toxic, bioavailable form at depth is important in part because scientists expect mercury levels at intermediate depths in the North Pacific to rise in coming decades.
"The implication is that predictions for increased mercury in deeper water will result in higher levels in fish," said Joel Blum of the University of Michigan, the lead au
|Contact: Talia S Ogliore|
University of Hawaii at Manoa