Student Research Projects

An Investigation of Coastal Sources of Methyl Mercury Along the Eastern United States

Student Jeremiah Clester, ‘13
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Earth and Environmental Sciences
Course EES 489: Independent Research


Mercury is a harmful neurotoxin and its global cycling process is not fully understood. About 0.5-5% of the total mercury in precipitation is in the bioavailable and toxic form of monomethylmercury (MMHg). The sources of this MMHg are not known. One of the most recent hypotheses is that ocean upwelling transports dimethyl mercury (DMHg) from deep ocean sediments to the surface where it becomes MMHg and enters the atmosphere (Weiss-Penzias et al., 2012). This study looks at the correlation between storm trajectories and ocean upwelling along the northeastern Atlantic coast to evaluate whether upwelling could be a source of MMHg in these samples. Precipitation samples were collected from Princeton University between November 2002 and December 2003 by Dr. Elizabeth Malcolm and analyzed for MMHg and total mercury concentration. Winds out of the southwest have been shown to cause upwelling along the New Jersey coastline (Kohut et al., 2004). By using trajectories calculated from EDAS Meteorological Data, buoy data, meteorological data, and satellite imagery obtained online, this study showed a correlation between high levels of MMHg in the rainwater and upwelling along the Atlantic coast. Five of the precipitation samples collected with high concentrations of MMHg showed a strong relationship with upwelling events along the New Jersey coastline. This research supports the hypothesis that one of the sources of atmospheric MMHg is deepwater sediments when a storm is passing over the ocean and an upwelling event occurs.