Distribution of artificial radionuclides in deep sediments of the Mediterranean Sea

TitleDistribution of artificial radionuclides in deep sediments of the Mediterranean Sea
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsGarcia-Orellana, J, Pates, JM, Masque, P, Bruach, JM, Sanchez-Cabeza, JA
JournalScience of the Total Environment

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 Pu-239,Pu-240 and Cs-137 to elucidate the concentrations, inventories and sources of these radionuclides in the deepest areas of the Mediterranean. The activity - depth profiles of Pb-210, together with 14 C dating, indicate that sediment mixing redistributes the artificial radionuclides within the first 2.5 cm of the sedimentary column. The excess Pb-210 inventory was used to normalize Pu-239,Pu-240 and Cs-137 inventories for variable sediment fluxes. The Pu-239,Pu-240/Pb-210(xs) ratio was uniform across the entire sea, with a mean value of 1.24 x 10(-3), indicating homogeneous fallout of Pu-239,Pu-240. The Cs-137/Pb-210(xs) 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 Pu-239,Pu-240/Cs-137 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 Pu-231,Pu-210 in the water column and major sedimentation of Cs-137 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 Pu-239,Pu-240 and 0.95% of the Cs-137 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. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V, All rights reserved.