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Origin and accumulation of trace elements in sediments of the northwestern Mediterranean margin

June 2, 2014

Continental margins receive natural and anthropogenic trace elements (TEs) from direct atmospheric deposition of aerosols onto the sea surface and from advection of riverine suspended particles and/or resuspended sediments from the continental shelf/slope. When the margin is incised by submarine canyons, as for example in the Northwestern Mediterranean Sea, most of these particles are preferentially transferred via these topographic  features towards their final repositories in the abyssal plain. The Gulf of Lions (GoL) shelf receives the largest particulate riverine input to the Western Mediterranean, with its associated chemical contaminants originating from the industrialized and urbanized Rhone Valley. Sediment samples (grabs, cores and moored traps) collected in the Cap de Creus (CdC) Canyon and its adjacent areas at the Southwestern exit of the GoL were analyzed to explore the origin, dispersion, transfer and accumulation of a suite of TEs (Ag, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn and V) from the GoL shelf to the adjacent continental rise. Distributions of Cu, Cr, Ni, Pb, Zn and V in the surface sediments of the shelf confirm their terrigenous origin in association with clay minerals, whereas Ag and Cd are more associated with organic matter (OM). All these TEs are anthropogenically enriched in the Rhone prodelta sediments. Anthropogenic influence remains clearly discernible in the GoL shelf surface sediments for Ag, Pb and Zn. Hydrodynamical resuspension and sorting of shelf sediments occur at the head of the CdC Canyon during dense shelf-water cascading events. During these events, the material collected in moored sediment traps contains a higher coarse carbonate fraction slightly impoverished in TEs compared to the clays of the nepheloid layer and the organically-rich particles deposited before and at the end of the cascading period. Upper and middle canyon sediments are characterized by high sedimentation rates (~ 0.2 cm yr− 1) of fine clay material. Conversely, sediments from the lower continental slope and rise exhibit low sedimentation rates (~ 0.06 cm yr− 1) and receive carbonaceous planktonic detritus from the water column. At the lower continental slope, coarse material includes foraminifers and pteropods, whereas at the continental rise finer planktonic-derived material is more abundant. Both in the CdC Canyon and in its adjacent lower continental slope/rise sediments, Co, Cu, Cr, Ni and V are associated with clay, whereas Ag, Cu and Pb are preferentially associated with OM. Cadmium, Cr, and Zn are also associated with OM in canyon sediments. Carbonaceous plankton appears to be especially efficient for scavenging Ag, whereas, Cr, V, Zn and Pb are diluted by biogenic carbonates. An authigenic Mn fraction is enriched with Co and Ni. Lead and Zn concentration levels and vertical profile patterns, along with Pb stable isotopic ratios, indicate that significant parts of Pb and Zn are of anthropogenic origin. A sediment chronology based on 210Pb dating reveals that Pb anthropization, mainly from gasoline additives, culminated between 1960 and 1980, being the current concentrations > 40% lower than 30 years ago. A similar distribution is observed for Zn, which originates mainly from combustion processes; but the reduction of Zn contamination amounts to only 20% during the same period. The largest anthropogenic Pb accumulation occurs in the middle part of CdC Canyon, with an inventory of 200 μg cm− 2. At the most distal part of the continental rise anthropogenic Pb accumulation within the first ~ 10 cm below the surface sediment is estimated around 10 μg cm− 2, which is similar to the direct atmospheric deposition estimate.

Cossa D, Buscail R, Puig P, Chiffoleau J-F, Radakovitch O, Jeanty G, Heussner S, 2014: Origin and accumulation of trace elements in sediments of the northwestern Mediterranean margin, Chemical Geology, 380, 61-73, doi:10.1016/j.chemgeo.2014.04.015. Article (subscription required).



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