Spatial distribution of trace elements in the surface sediments of a major European estuary (Loire Estuary, France): Source identification and evaluation of anthropogenic contribution

Research areas:
Metal pollution
  • Alexandra Coynel
  • Laureline Gorse
  • Cécile Curti
  • Jörg Schafer
  • Cécile Grosbois
  • Guia Morelli
  • Emmanuelle Ducassou
  • Gérard Blanc
  • Grégoire Maillet
  • Meryem Mojtahid
Journal of Sea Research
77 - 91
Recent and past sedimentary, biogeochemical and benthic ecosystem evolution of the Loire Estuary (Western France)
Abstract Assessing the extent of metal contamination in estuarine surface sediments is hampered by the high heterogeneity of sediment characteristics, the spatial variability of trace element sources, sedimentary dynamics and geochemical processes in addition to the need of accurate reference values for deciphering natural to anthropogenic contribution. Based on 285 surface sediment samples from the Loire Estuary, the first high-resolution spatial distributions are presented for grain-size, particulate organic carbon (POC) and the eight metals/metalloids identified as priority contaminants (Cd, Zn, Pb, Cu, As, Cr, Ni, Hg) plus Ag (an urban tracer). Grain-size and/or \{POC\} are major factors controlling the spatial distribution of trace element concentrations. The V-normalized trace metal concentrations divided by the V-normalized concentrations in the basin geochemical background showed the highest Enrichment Factors for Ag and Hg (EF; up to 34 and 140, respectively). These results suggest a severe contamination in the Loire Estuary for both elements. Intra-estuarine Ag and Hg anomalies were identified by comparison between respective normalized concentrations in the Loire Estuary surface sediments and those measured in the surface sediments at the outlet of the Loire River System (watershed-derived). Anthropogenic intra-estuarine Ag and Hg stocks in the uppermost centimetre of the sediment compared with rough annual fluvial flux estimates suggest that the overall strong Enrichment Factors for Ag (EFAg) and and Hg (EFHg) in the Loire Estuary sediments are mainly due to watershed-derived inputs, highlighting the need of high temporal hydro-geochemical monitoring to establish reliable incoming fluxes. Significant correlations obtained between \{EFCd\} and EFAg, \{EFCu\} and \{POC\} and \{EFHg\} and \{POC\} revealed common behavior and/or sources. Comparison of trace element concentrations with ecotoxicological indices (Sediment Quality Guidelines) provides first standardized information on the sediment quality in the Loire Estuary. The overall mean Effect Range Median quotients (m-ERM-q) results suggested that the Loire Estuary is mainly characterized by slightly toxic sediments even if ecotoxicological impacts have been previously reported on biota.