Mercury in the Global Environment

Global Biotic Mercury Synthesis (GBMS) Database

The global distribution of fish, including shark, and marine mammal mercury concentrations. The mercury concentration is presented in parts per million (ppm) on a wet weight (ww) basis. Map by Madeline Turnquist

GBMS represents a comprehensive, standardized, and cost-effective approach for documenting and tracking changes in environmental loads of mercury as reflected in fish and wildlife. The use of key indicator organisms, such as apex marine predators like sharks, that are sensitive to environmental change is an integral part of a long-term monitoring program. Photo © Creative Commons-StormyDog

Mercury research into freshwater fish in tropical wetlands is needed to better characterize potential hotspots. Photo © Flikr WorldFish4.

BRI's Global Biotic Mercury Synthesis (GBMS) database contains 1,835 mercury concentrations: 32,219 samples from 654 species of marine and freshwater fishes, marine mammals, and elasmobranchs. We have compiled data from peer-reviewed publications and government sources in a spatial-explicit format to better understand the extent and magnitude of mercury exposure in biota.

The Need for Monitoring Mercury Worldwide

BRI has compiled the GBMS database in association with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Mercury Air Transport and Fate Research Partnership group with the following objectives:

1. Determine global spatial and temporal patterns of biotic mercury concentrations from existing data and networks such as the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme

2. Identify species that are of greatest concern for ecological and human health

3. Locate global biological mercury hotspots, link with major mercury source types, and determine if concern is related to contaminated sites or ecosystems sensitive to mercury input

4. Distribute information in easy-to-access approaches for interested parties at local, regional, and global levels

5. Use GBMS as a baseline to evaluate the effectiveness of the Global Mercury Treaty under the Global Mercury Observation System

GBMS represents an important opportunity to integrate mercury science into important policy decisions related to the long-term management of marine resources.


Click here to read a recent BRI report using GBMS data


For more information contact:

David Evers, Ph.D.,

David Buck, Ph.D.,


Global Mercury Observation System (GMOS)

To improve our understanding of mercury in the global environment, there is a critical need for an international effort to monitor mercury concentrations in air, water, and biota in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The Global Mercury Observation System (GMOS) would provide data needed for model validation, and for accurate future predictions of changing mercury emissions and ecosystem response at local, regional and global scales.

For more details visit:

Night sampling for zooplankton with Neuston net, Mediterranean Sea.

Euphasiids (left) and mysids (right), Mediterranean Sea, 2011-2012.

Current BRI Research in the Mediterranean Sea

Mercury Exposure in Lower Trophic Level Organisms in the Mediterranean Sea - GMOS/Fenice Cruise Campaign

The mediterranean Sea provides food resources to many countries worldwide, including the United States. Numerous marine birds and mammals depend on the Mediterranean food web. Working in collaboration with Dartmouth College, BRI biologists set out to measure mercury levels in low trophic level zooplankton in the Mediterranean Sea. The goal is to link this data with the abiotic mercury measurements in air/water/sediment collected by the research teams from Italy, France, Sweden, and Slovenia in the Mediterranean Sea (including the Tyrrhenian Sea in 2011, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Atlantic Ocean in 2012) and to explore mercury exposure in the higher marine organisms such as fish and squid, which are major food sources for many marine birds, fish, and mammals including humans.

Preliminary Findings:

We found elevated levels of mercury in fish captured in 2011 and 2012 in the western basins. In addition, we found high mercury concentrations in the hair of many italian crew members who live on the ship about six or more months per year and who consume fish on a regular basis. Our work will complement water-atmospheric mercury research carried out by our european colleagues, and will add to the global knowledge of mercury cycling in the marine ecosystem. In addition:

Sampling locations in western Mediterranean Sea, from 2011 and 2012. We will continue this scientific collaboration with additional sampling in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the summer of 2013.


For more information about this project, contact:
Oksana Piterman Lane
207.839.7600 x106