Over one hundred years of trace metal fluxes in the sediments of the Pearl River Estuary, South China

C. C M Ip, Xiangdong Li, G. Zhang, J. G. Farmer, Wing Hong Onyx Wai, Yok Sheung Li

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)


The rapid economic development in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region in South China in the last three decades has had a significant impact on the local environment. Estuarine sediment is a major sink for contaminants and nutrients in the surrounding ecosystem. The accumulation of trace metals in sediments may cause serious environmental problems in the aquatic system. Thirty sediment cores were collected in the Pearl River Estuary (PRE) in 2000 for a study on trace metal pollution in this region. Heavy metal concentrations and Pb isotopic compositions in the four210Pb-dated sediment cores were determined to assess the fluxes in metal deposits over the last one hundred years. The concentrations of Cu, Pb and Zn in the surface sediment layers were generally elevated when compared with the sub-surface layers. There has been a significant increase in inputs of Cu, Pb and Zn in the PRE since the 1970s. The results also showed that different sampling locations in the estuary received slightly different types of inputs. Pb isotopic composition data indicated that the increased Pb in the recent sediments was of anthropogenic origin. The results of trace metal influxes showed that about 30% of total Pb and 15% of total Zn in the sediments in the 1990s were from anthropogenic sources. The combination of trace metal analysis, Pb isotopic composition and210Pb dating in an estuary can provide vital information on the long-term accumulation of metals in sediments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-172
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2004


  • Fluxes
  • Pb isotopes
  • Pearl River Estuary
  • Sediment profiles
  • Trace metals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Pollution


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