An evaluation of the distributions of polychlorinated biphenyls and organic matter in coastal sediments

University dissertation from Stockholm : Institutionen för geologi och geokemi

Abstract: The objective of this thesis is to improve the understanding of what processes and mechanism affects the distribution of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organic carbon in coastal sediments. Because of the strong association of hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) such as PCBs with organic matter in the aquatic environment, these two entities are naturally linked. The coastal environment is the most complex and dynamic part of the ocean when it comes to both cycling of organic matter and HOCs. This environment is characterised by the largest fluxes and most diverse sources of both entities. A wide array of methods was used to study these processes throughout this thesis. In the field sites in the Stockholm archipelago of the Baltic proper, bottom sediments and settling particulate matter were retrieved using sediment coring devices and sediment traps from morphometrically and seismically well-characterized locations. In the laboratory, the samples have been analysed for PCBs, stable carbon isotope ratios, carbon-nitrogen atom ratios as well as standard sediment properties. From the fieldwork in the Stockholm Archipelago and the following laboratory work it was concluded that the inner Stockholm archipelago has a low (≈ 4%) trapping efficiency for freshwater-derived organic carbon. The corollary is a large potential for long-range waterborne transport of OC and OC-associated nutrients and hydrophobic organic pollutants from urban Stockholm to more pristine offshore Baltic Sea ecosystems.Theoretical work has been carried out using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and statistical methods on a database of 4214 individual sediment samples, each with reported individual PCB congener concentrations. From this work it was concluded that the continental shelf sediments are key global inventories and ultimate sinks of PCBs. Depending on congener, 10-80% of the cumulative historical emissions to the environment are accounted for in continental shelf sediments. Further it was concluded that the many infamous and highly contaminated surface sediments of urban harbours and estuaries of contaminated rivers cannot be of importance as a secondary source to sustain the concentrations observed in remote sediments. Of the global shelf PCB inventory < 1% are in sediments near population centres while ≥ 90% is in remote areas (> 10 km from any dwellings). The remote sub-basin of the North Atlantic Ocean contains approximately half of the global shelf sediment inventory for most of the PCBs studied.

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