Temporal monitoring of mercury concentrations in tuna, the work of Anaïs Médieu in the press

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The work of Anaïs Medieu on the temporal monitoring of mercury concentrations in tuna has recently been the subject of numerous articles in the national and international press:

As not all of these publications are open access, here is a summary of Anaïs’s results.

The stability of mercury concentrations in tuna since 1971 reflects the inertia of the oceans and calls for massive reductions in emissions to achieve the objectives of the Minamata Convention.

Humans are exposed to toxic methylmercury mainly by consuming marine fish that bioaccumulate methylmercury in the oceans. The Minamata Convention on Mercury of the UN aims to reduce human exposure to mercury through the reduction of anthropogenic emissions. But has this reduction effort led to a reduction in methylmercury concentrations in the oceans and marine fish? An international team of researchers, coordinated by IRD, addressed this question by compiling nearly 3000 mercury measurements in tuna samples captured between 1971 and 2022 in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

The study reveals that mercury concentrations in tuna have remained globally stable since 1971, except in the northwest Pacific where they significantly increased at the end of the 1990s, probably in connection with the massive increase in anthropogenic emissions associated with the intensive use of fossil fuels for electricity production in Asia. Elsewhere, the stability of mercury levels in tuna does not reflect the global decrease in mercury levels in the atmosphere resulting from emission reduction policies. The researchers attribute this stability in tuna to the inertia of the oceans and the stock of mercury historically emitted that continues to feed the surface or subsurface waters where tuna live. This mercury was emitted decades, if not centuries ago, and does not yet reflect the effects of emission reductions in the atmosphere.

The researchers also simulated the impact of different emission reduction policies on mercury levels in the oceans. Even the strictest emission policy would take 10 to 25 years to initiate a decrease in mercury concentrations in the oceans. These results highlight the need for a global effort to achieve the objectives of the Minamata Convention to reduce emissions and call for continued and long-term global monitoring of mercury levels in marine life.


The ocean may be storing more carbon than estimated in previous studies

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Our colleague Frédéric Le Moigne contributed to an international study on the efficiency of the oceanic carbon pump. The study, published this week in Nature magazine, reassesses the ocean’s capacity to store carbon, particularly through ‘marine snow’. The CNRS issued a press release about this publication :

The ocean’s capacity to store atmospheric carbon dioxide is almost 20% higher than the estimates presented in the latest IPCC report. These are the findings of a study published in the journal Nature on 6 December 2023 by an international team including a biologist from the CNRS. The scientists looked at the role played by plankton in the natural transport of carbon from the surface to the seabed.

Plankton is fond of this gas, which it transforms into organic tissue through photosynthesis during its development, and some of it is transformed into marine particles at the end of its life. Denser than seawater, this ‘marine snow’ sinks to the seabed, storing carbon and providing essential nutrients for many deep-sea creatures, from tiny bacteria to deep-sea fish.

Based on the study of a database collected from around the world since the 1970s using oceanographic vessels, the team of seven scientists were able to digitally map the fluxes of organic matter throughout the oceans. The resulting new estimate of storage capacity is 15 gigatonnes per year, an increase of around 20% on the previous studies (11 gigatonnes per year) reported by the IPCC in its 2021 report.

This reassessment of the seabed’s storage capacity represents a significant advance in our understanding of carbon exchanges between the atmosphere and the ocean at a global level. While the team stresses that this absorption process takes place over tens of thousands of years, and is therefore not sufficient to offset the exponential increase in CO2 emissions generated by global industrial activity since 1750, this study nevertheless reinforces the importance of the ocean ecosystem as a major player in regulating the global climate in the long term.

Global distribution of organic carbon flux from the surface layer of the open ocean.
© Wang et al., 2023, Nature.



Biological carbon pump estimate based on multi-decadal hydrographic data. Wei-Lei Wang, Weiwei Fu, Frédéric A. C. Le Moigne, Robert T. Letscher, Yi Liu, Jin-Ming Tang, and François W. Primeau. Nature, le 6 décembre 2023.
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06772-4

Claire Hellio, awarded the CNRS Innovation Medal

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Congratulations to our colleague Claire HELLIO, who has been awarded the 2023 CNRS Innovation Medal!

Claire, a University Professor at UBO, is in charge of the BIODIMAR platform. The platform is dedicated to biotechnology research, and develops solutions for producing more environmentally-friendly products, mainly from molecules of marine origin.

Extract from the CNRS press release:

Claire Hellio, drawing inspiration from natural molecules for environmentally-friendly products

Claire Hellio develops innovative bioinspired solutions based on active molecules produced by algae and microorganisms. Conducted at the Laboratoire des sciences de l’environnement marin, this work, at the interface between chemistry, biology, biochemistry and ecology, is carried out via the Biodimar bioprospecting platform, which this professor heads up.

Her team responds to the problems and R&D needs of manufacturers, developing specific biotests and innovative biotechnological solutions based on natural substances of marine origin. Applications are mainly in the fields of cosmetics (antioxidants and preservatives) and antifouling coatings (protection of boat hulls against colonization). These solutions are made as environmentally-friendly as possible. This collaboration with companies has, for example, taken the form of a joint laboratory called BiotechALg in partnership with Green Sea, the European leader in microalgae production.

A CO₂ sink in the South Pacific marine desert


Four colleagues from LEMAR (Jérémie Habasque, Frédéric Le Moigne, Anne Lebourges-Dhaussy et Géraldine Sarthou) have participated in a major international study based on the results of the TONGA cruise. This study, led by Sophie Bonnet (MIO) and Cécile Guieu (LOV) focuses on the mechanism of natural iron fertilisation in the ocean by hydrothermal springs, and has just been published in the prestigious journal Science.

Press release

A newly identified process of natural iron fertilisation in the ocean feeds regional CO₂ sinks. This is shown by a study published on 25 May in Science and co-authored by 25 researchers from the Tonga project led by two researchers from IRD and CNRS, bringing together more than 90 scientists from 14 French laboratories based in mainland France and New Caledonia, and 6 international universities. In this article, the research team studied the shallow submarine volcanoes of the Tonga volcanic arc (South Pacific), which release hydrothermal fluids rich in iron, a micronutrient essential for life. Some of the iron emitted in these fluids reaches the lighted layer of the ocean, where photosynthesis takes place, i.e. the fixation of CO₂ by the microalgae of the plankton. This strongly stimulates biological activity in this zone, particularly that of diazotrophs1, creating a vast bloom of around 400,000 km2, a veritable oasis of life in the middle of the South Pacific marine desert, and increased sequestration of CO2 towards the deep ocean.

To document the mechanistic link between the supply of iron by submarine volcanism and the response of the surface plankton community, the researchers combined acoustic, chemical, physical and biological observations acquired during the Tonga oceanographic expedition, to be carried out in 2019 on board the L’Atalante vessel of the French Oceanographic Fleet operated by Ifremer.


In this study, scientists demonstrate that the fluids emitted along Tonga’s volcanic arc have a considerable impact on iron concentrations in the illuminated layer. This enrichment stimulates biological activity, leading to the formation of a vast oasis of chlorophyll-rich life, dominated by the diazotroph Trichodesmium. Compared with adjacent waters not fertilised with iron, diazotroph activity is 2 to 8 times higher and carbon sequestration fluxes in the deep ocean 2 to 3 times. These results reveal a mechanism of natural iron fertilisation in the ocean by hydrothermal springs, which feeds regional atmospheric CO2 sinks.

Planktonic diazotrophs are microscopic organisms that are ubiquitous in the ocean. They play a crucial role, acting as natural fertilisers by providing newly available nitrogen to the surface ocean biosphere, an essential nutrient that is in short supply in most of our oceans. The western subtropical South Pacific is a hotbed of diazotroph activity, contributing an estimated 21% of the world’s nitrogen through this process.

The input of iron via atmospheric deposition is known to control the biogeography of diazotrophs on a large scale, but these aeolian inputs are extremely low in this remote region. This suggests the presence of other iron fertilisation processes, such as the one highlighted here for the first time. Identifying these processes is of the utmost importance as diazotrophs have recently been identified as key drivers of future CO2 fixation by the ocean in response to climate change.



Sophie Bonnet, Cécile Guieu, Vincent Taillandier, Cédric Boulart, Pascale Bouruet-Aubertot, Frédéric Gazeau, Carla Scalabrin, Matthieu Bressac, Angela N. Knapp, Yannis Cuypers, David González-Santana, Heather J. Forrer, Jean-Michel Grisoni, Olivier Grosso, Jérémie Habasque, Mercedes Jardin-Camps, Nathalie Leblond, Frédéric Le Moigne, Anne Lebourges-Dhaussy, Caroline Lory, Sandra Nunige, Elvira Pulido-Villena, Andrea L. Rizzo, Géraldine Sarthou, Chloé Tilliette.
Institut méditerranéen d’océanologie (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université/IRD/Université de Toulon), Laboratoire d’océanographie de Villefranche (CNRS/Sorbonne Université), Laboratoire Adaptation et diversité en milieu marin (CNRS/SU), Laboratoire d’océanographie et du climat : expérimentations et approches numériques (CNRS/IRD/MNHN/SU), Laboratoire Geo-ocean (CNRS/Ifremer/UBO), Laboratoire des sciences de l’environnement marin (CNRS/IRD/Ifremer/UBO), Institut de la Mer de Villefranche (CNRS/SU).
Natural iron fertilization by shallow hydrothermal sources fuels diazotroph blooms in the Ocean, Science, 25 mai 2023. DOI: 10.1126/science.abq4654.

HistoRade, interview on Radio Évasion

Historade - shipwreck in Brest roadstead

HistoRade is a research project led by LEMAR, combining social and environmental history, it delves into the past of the marine species of the Brest bay to understand their current ecological state. For the resource, in particular shellfish, has considerably decreased to the point of compromising the future of local fishing.

Lucas Bosseboeuf currently in PhD thesis in the unit presented this magnificent work in an interview on Radio Évasion.

You can listen to it again here.

More information on the project website.