Heavy metals in particulate matter and sediments in the southern Barcelona sedimentation system (North-western Mediterranean)

Pere Puig, Albert Palanques, Joan A. Sanchez-Cabeza, Pere Masqué

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Concentrations of selected heavy metals (Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn) from surface sediments, suspended particulate matter and settling particles in the southern Barcelona continental margin were studied in order to evaluate the environmental impact of the anthropogenic metals discharged by the Llobregat River in this Mediterranean area. The temporal variation of heavy metals discharged by this river onto the continental shelf is clearly related to the river water flow. Part of the fine sediment and associated heavy metals transported by the Llobregat River during periods of low river flow accumulate on the river bed, and they are totally removed and discharged onto the Barcelona continental shelf during sporadic river water flow increases. Metals produce significant anomalies of chromium (X 2.5), copper (X 3.4) and zinc (X 3.7) in the surface sediments of the Llobregat prodelta and tend to be transported along the continental shelf following the mean flow. Metals associated with the finest suspended flocs transferred to the slope are controlled by the shelf-slope density front and are transported along slope by the general geostrophic current, instead of accumulating and becoming concentrated in the slope bottom sediments. Settling particulate matter collected in sediment traps on the Barcelona continental slope offshore of the shelf-slope front shows low heavy metal concentrations except in a few sediment trap samples that are significantly metal-enriched in chromium (X 4.5) and zinc (X 6.8). This enrichment is associated with very short and sporadic river flow increases and is only recorded inside the Foix submarine canyon, which acts as a preferential conduit for the shelf-slope sediment transfer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-329
JournalMarine Chemistry
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999


  • Barcelona continental margin
  • Heavy metals
  • Llobregat River
  • Sediment contamination


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