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Distribution of artificial radionuclides in deep sediments of the Mediterranean Sea.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

  • J. Garcia-Orellana
  • Jackie M. Pates
  • P. Masqué
  • J. M. Bruach
  • J. A. Sánchez-Cabeza
Journal publication date1/01/2009
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Journal number2
Volume407
Number of pages12
Pages887-898
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Artificial radionuclides enter the Mediterranean Sea mainly through atmospheric deposition following nuclear weapons tests and the Chernobyl accident, but also through the river discharge of nuclear facility effluents. Previous studies of artificial radionuclides impact of the Mediterranean Sea have focussed on shallow, coastal sediments. However, deep sea sediments have the potential to store and accumulate pollutants, including artificial radionuclides. Deep sea marine sediment cores were collected from Mediterranean Sea abyssal plains (depth > 2000 m) and analysed for 239,240Pu and 137Cs to elucidate the concentrations, inventories and sources of these radionuclides in the deepest areas of the Mediterranean. The activity — depth profiles of 210Pb, together with 14C dating, indicate that sediment mixing redistributes the artificial radionuclides within the first 2.5 cm of the sedimentary column. The excess 210Pb inventory was used to normalize 239,240Pu and 137Cs inventories for variable sediment fluxes. The 239,240Pu/210Pbxs ratio was uniform across the entire sea, with a mean value of 1.24 × 10− 3, indicating homogeneous fallout of 239,240Pu. The 137Cs/210Pbxs ratio showed differences between the eastern (0.049) and western basins (0.030), clearly significant impact of deep sea sediments from the Chernobyl accident. The inventory ratios of 239,240Pu/137Cs were 0.041 and 0.025 in the western and eastern basins respectively, greater than the fallout ratio, 0.021, showing more efficient scavenging of 239,240Pu in the water column and major sedimentation of 137Cs in the eastern basin. Although areas with water depths of > 2000 m constitute around 40% of the entire Mediterranean basin, the sediments in these regions only contained 2.7% of the 239,240Pu and 0.95% of the 137Cs deposited across the Sea in 2000. These data show that the accumulation of artificial radionuclides in deep Mediterranean environments is much lower than predicted by other studies from the analysis of continental shelf sediments.