Articles | Volume 10, issue 1
Research article
24 Feb 2014
Research article |  | 24 Feb 2014

Fate of colloids during estuarine mixing in the Arctic

O. S. Pokrovsky, L. S. Shirokova, J. Viers, V. V. Gordeev, V. P. Shevchenko, A. V. Chupakov, T. Y. Vorobieva, F. Candaudap, C. Causserand, A. Lanzanova, and C. Zouiten

Abstract. The estuarine behavior of organic carbon (OC) and trace elements (TE) was studied for the largest European sub-Arctic river, which is the Severnaya Dvina; this river has a deltaic estuary covered in ice during several hydrological seasons: summer (July 2010, 2012) and winter (March 2009) baseflow, and the November–December 2011 ice-free period. Colloidal forms of OC and TE were assessed for three pore size cutoffs (1, 10, and 50 kDa) using an in situ dialysis procedure. Conventionally dissolved (< 0.22 μm) fractions demonstrated clear conservative behavior for Li, B, Na, Mg, K, Ca, Sr, Mo, Rb, Cs, and U during the mixing of freshwater with the White Sea; a significant (up to a factor of 10) concentration increase occurs with increases in salinity. Si and OC also displayed conservative behavior but with a pronounced decrease in concentration seawards. Rather conservative behavior, but with much smaller changes in concentration (variation within ±30%) over a full range of salinities, was observed for Ti, Ni, Cr, As, Co, Cu, Ga, Y, and heavy REE. Strong non-conservative behavior with coagulation/removal at low salinities (< 5‰) was exhibited by Fe, Al, Zr, Hf, and light REE. Finally, certain divalent metals exhibited non-conservative behavior with a concentration gain at low (~ 2–5‰, Ba, Mn) or intermediate (~ 10–15‰, Ba, Zn, Pb, Cd) salinities, which is most likely linked to TE desorption from suspended matter or sediment outflux.

The most important result of this study is the elucidation of the behavior of the "truly" dissolved low molecular weight LMW< 1 kDa fraction containing Fe, OC, and a number of insoluble elements. The concentration of the LMW fraction either remains constant or increases its relative contribution to the overall dissolved (< 0.22 μm) pool as the salinity increases. Similarly, the relative proportion of colloidal (1 kDa–0.22 μm) pool for the OC and insoluble TE bound to ferric colloids systematically decreased seaward, with the largest decrease occurring at low (< 5‰) salinities.

Overall, the observed decrease in the colloidal fraction may be related to the coagulation of organo-ferric colloids at the beginning of the mixing zone and therefore the replacement of the HMW1 kDa–0.22 μm portion by the LMW< 1 kDa fraction. These patterns are highly reproducible across different sampling seasons, suggesting significant enrichment of the mixing zone by the most labile (and potentially bioavailable) fraction of the OC, Fe and insoluble TE. The size fractionation of the colloidal material during estuarine mixing reflects a number of inorganic and biological processes, the relative contribution of which to element speciation varies depending on the hydrological stage and time of year. In particular, LMW< 1 kDa ligand production in the surface horizons of the mixing zone may be linked to heterotrophic mineralization of allochthonous DOM and/or photodestruction. Given the relatively low concentration of particulate versus dissolved load of most trace elements, desorption from the river suspended material was less pronounced than in other rivers in the world. As a result, the majority of dissolved components exhibited either conservative (OC and related elements such as divalent metals) or non-conservative, coagulation-controlled (Fe, Al, and insoluble TE associated with organo-ferric colloids) behavior. The climate warming at high latitudes is likely to intensify the production of LMW< 1 kDa organic ligands and the associated TE; therefore, the delivery of potentially bioavailable trace metal micronutrients from the land to the ocean may increase.