Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 4667–4679 | Cite as

The distribution and accumulation of mercury and methylmercury in surface sediments beneath the East China Sea

  • Aiguo DongEmail author
  • Shikui Zhai
  • Patrick Louchouarn
  • Gareth Izon
  • Huaijing Zhang
  • Xiuli Jiang
Research Article


China is a massive mercury emitter, responsible for a quarter of the world’s mercury emissions, which transit the atmosphere and accumulate throughout its watercourses. The Changjiang (Yangtze) River is the third largest river in the world, integrating mercury emissions over its 1.8 × 106 km2 catchment and channelling them to the East China Sea where they can be buried. Despite its potential global significance, the importance of the East China Sea as a terminal mercury sink remains poorly known. To address this knowledge gap, total mercury and methylmercury concentrations were determined from 51 surface sediment samples revealing their spatial distribution, whilst demonstrating the overall pollution status of the East China Sea. Sedimentary mercury distributions beneath the East China Sea are spatially heterogeneous, with high mercury concentrations (> 25 ng g−1) corresponding to areas of fine-grained sediment accumulation. In contrast, some sites of fine-grained sediment deposition have significantly lower values of methylmercury (< 15 ng g−1), such as the Changjiang estuary and some isolated offshore areas. Fine-grained particles and organic matter availability appear to exert the dominant control over sedimentary mercury distribution in the East China Sea, whereas in situ methylation serves as an additional control governing methylmercury accumulation. Estimated annual sedimentary fluxes of mercury in the East China Sea are 51 × 106 g, which accounts for 9% of China’s annual mercury emissions.


East China Sea Mercury Methylmercury Bioaccumulation Mercury fluxes Sediment 



This represents Seolfor Solutions contribution no. 1. We thank Dongxing Yuan and FangFang Lin for determining the various mercury abundances and Chao Li for analysing TOC and TN contents. We salute that initial work by Xingqian Cui and comments from Mark Marvin-DiPasquale. This manuscript was critiqued by two anonymous reviewers whose diligence undoubtedly improved the quality of this contribution.

Funding information

Aiguo Dong received financial support from the Fundamental Research funds for the Central Universities (2652017048). Shikui Zhai received financial support from the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation (41076022) and the Laboratory of Marine Hydrocarbon Resources and Environmental Geology, Ministry of Land and Resource (MRE201004). Gareth Izon is supported by the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3880_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (32 kb)
Table S1 Geochemical data from surface sediments and basal waters obtained from the East China Sea. Data include total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) abundances, the ratio between methylmercury and total mercury (MeHg/THg), total organic carbon (TOC), sediment grain size (SGS) and total suspended sediment (TSS) load. Table S2: Principle component analysis conducted using IBM’s SPSS statistics package. The input parameters are total mercury and methylmercury concentrations, the ratio between methylmercury and total mercury, grain size, basal total suspended sediment concentrations and total organic carbon content. Table S3: Component matrix calculated using IBM’s SPSS statistics package. (XLSX 31 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Earth SciencesChina University of Geosciences (Beijing)BeijingChina
  2. 2.Key Lab of Submarine Geosciences and Prospecting Techniques, Ministry of EducationOcean University of ChinaQingdaoChina
  3. 3.Department of Marine SciencesTexas A&M UniversityGalvestonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary SciencesMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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