Characterizing the surface microlayer in the Mediterranean Sea: Trace metal concentrations and microbial plankton abundance

Antonio Tovar-Sánchez, Araceli Rodríguez-Romero, Anja Engel, Birthe Zäncker, Franck Fu, Emilio Marañón, María Pérez-Lorenzo, Matthieu Bressac, Thibaut Wagener, Sylvain Triquet, Guillaume Siour, Karine Desboeufs, Cécile Guieu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Sea Surface Microlayer (SML) is known to be enriched by trace metals relative to the underlying water and harbor diverse microbial communities (i.e., neuston). However, the processes linking metals and biota in the SML are not yet fully understood. The metal (Cd, Co, Cu, Fe, Ni, Mo, V, Zn and Pb) concentrations in aerosol samples in the SML (dissolved and total fractions) and in subsurface waters (SSWs; dissolved fraction at &tild; 1 m depth) from the western Mediterranean Sea were analyzed in this study during a cruise in May-June 2017. The composition and abundance of the bacterial community in the SML and SSW, the primary production, and Chl a in the SSW were measured simultaneously at all stations during the cruise. Residence times in the SML of metals derived from aerosol depositions were highly variable and ranged from minutes for Fe (3:6 ± 6:0 min) to a few hours for Cu (5:8 ± 6:2 h). Concentrations of most of the dissolved metals in both the SML and SSW were positively correlated with the salinity gradient and showed the characteristic eastward increase in the surface waters of the Mediterranean Sea (MS). In contrast, the total fraction of some reactive metals in the SML (i.e., Cu, Fe, Pb and Zn) showed a negative correlation with salinity and a positive correlation with microbial abundance, which might be associated with microbial uptake. Our results show a strong negative correlation between the dissolved and total Ni concentration and heterotrophic bacterial abundance in the SML and SSW, but we cannot ascertain whether this correlation reflects a toxicity effect or is the result of some other process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2349-2364
Number of pages16
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 30 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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