Effects of bottom trawling on trace metal contamination of sediments along the submarine canyons of the Gulf of Palermo (southwestern Mediterranean)

Albert Palanques*, Sarah Paradis, Pere Puig, Pere Masqué, Claudio Lo Iacono

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Submarine canyons arc preferential pathways for transport of particulate matter and contaminants from the shelf to the deep sea. The Gulf of Palermo continental margin has a very narrow shelf (about 2-3 km wide on average) and is incised by several submarine canyons that favour shelf-slope sediment transfer. A sediment core collected on the outer shelf and six sediment cores taken at different depths along the Oreto, Eleuterio and Anerella submarine canyons were analysed to study the transfer and historical record of trace metal contamination in the Gulf of Palermo continental margin. 'I'race metals, major elements, organic carbon and sediment grain size were analysed in these cores, which were dated with Pb-210 to assess their historical compositional evolution since the late 19th century. Hg, Pb, Cu, Zn and Cd content increased until the 1970s and 1980s, associated with the increase in urbanization and industrial activities in the Palermo area, and Hg was the contaminant that reached the highest enrichments. However, the increasing trend of these metals contamination was reversed in the 1970s and 1980s, coinciding with drastic changes in the terrigenous content and grain size of sediments in the canyon axes. These changes occurred when bottom trawling fleets expanded to deeper fishing grounds equipped with powerful trawlers around the Gulf of Palermo canyon heads and flanks and along the Oreto canyon axis. Bottom trawlers have resuspended large amounts of sediment, which have been transferred into the canyons since the 1970s and 1980s and have thus increased sediment accumulation rates. This resuspended sediment has been mixing with the sediment transferred and accumulated along the canyons, diluting and reducing its trace metal contamination levels since the expansion of the bottom trawling fleets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152658
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the total environment
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2022


  • Bottom trawling
  • Contamination
  • Gulf of Palermo
  • Historical contamination
  • Submarine canyons
  • Trace metals
  • Western Mediterranean


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