Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
Research article
28 Mar 2011
Research article |  | 28 Mar 2011

Distribution and air-sea exchange of mercury (Hg) in the Yellow Sea

Z. J. Ci, X. S. Zhang, Z. W. Wang, Z. C. Niu, X. Y. Diao, and S. W. Wang

Abstract. The Yellow Sea, surrounded by East China and the Korea Peninsula, is a potentially important receptor for anthropogenic mercury (Hg) emissions from East Asia. However, there is little documentation about the distribution and cycle of Hg in this marine system. During the cruise covering the Yellow Sea in July 2010, gaseous elemental mercury (GEM or Hg(0)) in the atmosphere, total Hg (THg), reactive Hg (RHg) and dissolved gaseous mercury (DGM, largely Hg(0)) in the waters were measured aboard the R/V Kexue III. The mean (±SD) concentration of GEM over the entire cruise was 2.61 ± 0.50 ng m−3 (range: 1.68 to 4.34 ng m−3), which were generally higher than other open oceans. The spatial distribution of GEM generally reflected a clear gradient with high levels near the coast of East China and low levels in open waters, suggesting the significant atmospheric Hg outflow from East China. The mean concentration of THg in the surface waters was 1.69 ± 0.35 ng l−1 and the RHg accounted for a considerable fraction of THg (RHg: 1.08 ± 0.28 ng l−1, %RHg/THg = 63.9%). The mean concentration of DGM in the surface waters was 63.9 ± 13.7 pg l−1 and always suggested the supersaturation of Hg(0) in the surface waters with respect to Hg(0) in the atmosphere (the degree of saturation: 7.8 ± 2.3 with a range of 3.6–14.0). The mean Hg(0) flux at the air-sea interface was estimated to be 18.3 ± 11.8 ng m−2 h−1 based on a two-layer exchange model. The high wind speed and DGM levels induced the extremely high Hg(0) emission rates. Measurements at three stations showed no clear vertical patterns of DGM, RHg and THg in the water column. Overall, the elevated Hg levels in the Yellow Sea compared with other open oceans suggested that the human activity has influenced the oceanic Hg cycle downwind of East Asia.

Final-revised paper