Mercury in the Mediterranean. Part 2: processes and mass balance

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2014 Mar;21(6):4081-94. doi: 10.1007/s11356-013-2055-5. Epub 2013 Aug 30.


Mass balance of contaminants can provide useful information on the processes that influence their concentrations in various environmental compartments. The most important sources, sinks and the equilibrium or non-equilibrium state of the contaminant in individual environmental compartments can also be identified. Using the latest mercury speciation data, the results of numerical models and the results of recent studies on mercury transport and transformation processes in the marine environment, we have re-evaluated the total mercury (HgT) mass balance in the Mediterranean Sea. New calculations have been performed employing three distinct marine layers: the surface layer, the thermocline and the deep sea. New transport mechanisms, deep water formation and density-driven sinking and upwelling, were included in the mass balance calculations. The most recent data have even enabled the calculation of an approximate methylmercury (MeHg) mass balance. HgT is well balanced in the entire Mediterranean, and the discrepancies between inputs and outputs in individual layers do not exceed 20 %. The MeHg balance shows larger discrepancies between gains and losses due to measurement uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge of Hg species transformation processes. Nonetheless, the main sources and sinks of HgT (deposition and evasion) and MeHg (fluxes from sediment, outflow through the Gibraltar Strait) are in accordance with previous studies on mercury in the Mediterranean Basin. Mercury in the Mediterranean fish harvest is the second largest MeHg sink; about 300 kg of this toxic substance is consumed annually with sea food.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Environmental Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mercury