Climate-driven changes of global marine mercury cycles in 2100

Significance

One concern caused by the changes in the ocean due to climate change is the potential increase of neurotoxic methylmercury content in seafood. This work quantifies the impact of global change factors on marine mercury cycles. The air–sea exchange is influenced by wind speed weakening and solubility drop of mercury due to seawater warming. The decreased biological pump shrinks the methylation substrate and causes weaker methylation. The advantageous light environment resulting from less attenuation by sea ice and phytoplankton increases the photodegradation potential for seawater methylmercury. Responses of seawater methylmercury can propagate to biota, which is also modulated by the changes in anthropogenic emissions and ocean ecology. Our results offer insight into interactions among different climate change stressors.

Abstract

Human exposure to monomethylmercury (CH3Hg), a potent neurotoxin, is principally through the consumption of seafood. The formation of CH3Hg and its bioaccumulation in marine food webs experience ongoing impacts of global climate warming and ocean biogeochemistry alterations. Employing a series of sensitivity experiments, here we explicitly consider the effects of climate change on marine mercury (Hg) cycling within a global ocean model in the hypothesized twenty-first century under the business-as-usual scenario. Even though the overall prediction is subjected to significant uncertainty, we identify several important climate change impact pathways. Elevated seawater temperature exacerbates elemental Hg (Hg0) evasion, while decreased surface wind speed reduces air–sea exchange rates. The reduced export of particulate organic carbon shrinks the pool of potentially bioavailable divalent Hg (HgII) that can be methylated in the subsurface ocean, where shallower remineralization depth associated with lower productivity causes impairment of methylation activity. We also simulate an increase in CH3Hg photodemethylation potential caused by increased incident shortwave radiation and less attenuation by decreased sea ice and chlorophyll. The model suggests that these impacts can also be propagated to the CH3Hg concentration in the base of the marine food web. Our results offer insight into synergisms/antagonisms in the marine Hg cycling among different climate change stressors.

Wang Y., Wu P. & Zhang Y., 2023. Climate-driven changes of global marine mercury cycles in 2100. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 120(2): e2202488120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2202488120. Article.

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