Clay mineral source tracing and characterisation of Burdekin River (NE Australia) and flood plume fine sediment
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The purpose of this study is to define the relative contributions of fine (<10 μm) suspended sediment from tributaries within the Burdekin River catchment, NE Australia, and subsequent delivery to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon. The temporal variability in these contributions was also investigated.
Materials and methods
Sediments in river and flood plume water samples were analysed for particle size and clay mineral abundance at 31 sites across the Burdekin catchment. Sampling sites included minor tributaries, sub-catchment, reservoir and end-of-river outlets, and the adjacent coastal flood plume. Samples were collected during multiple wet season streamflow events from 2005–2011. Particle size data were used to calculate catchment-wide fine sediment (<10 μm) and clay-only (<4 μm) budgets, and a clay mineral ratio was used to distinguish geological source areas.
Results and discussion
This sediment source tracing study identified basaltic, granitic and sedimentary geologies as the dominant sources of end-of-river and flood plume fine sediments (<10 μm) across the Burdekin. A clay mineral ratio (illite/illite + expandable clays) clearly distinguished between the two main catchment source areas (Upper Burdekin and Bowen River sub-catchments), highlighting the importance of considering both of these sources for management of the finer sediment fractions that are potentially more ecologically damaging in the marine environment. This ratio also highlighted the relative enrichment of expandable clays (i.e. those containing a ‘shink-swell’ smectitic component) along the salinity gradient within remaining flood plume fine sediment.
The distinctive geological source-related ‘fingerprints’ found in this study validate the relative proportions of clay minerals as a valuable tracing tool in large and geologically complex catchment settings and across freshwater–marine continuums.
KeywordsCatchments Clay mineral ratios Erosion Great Barrier Reef Sediment budget Sediment fingerprinting Turbidity
Funding for this research was supported by the Australian Government’s Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, implemented in North Queensland by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Ltd and the North Queensland Dry Tropics. ZTB is the grateful recipient of a JCU/CSIRO Tropical Landscapes Joint Venture and College of Marine and Environmental Sciences (CMES) Joint PhD Scholarship. ZTB also received funding from CSIRO (including Dr Petra Kuhnert’s Julius Award) and JCU’s TropWATER/CMES to attend the ‘X-ray diffraction analysis of clay minerals’ course at the James Hutton Institute (Aberdeen, Scotland). We gratefully acknowledge the grazier volunteer network for their dedicated sampling efforts, Tony Bailey and Gary Caddies (SunWater) for collecting the BFD samples and the Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts GBR Loads Monitoring Program for providing additional data and Reef Policy Project (RP65G) for collection of the Old Reef sample. Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines provided streamflow gauging station data. We are also grateful to Brendan Jones (Advanced Analytical Centre, JCU) for XRD analytical support. Finally, deep appreciation is expressed to Dr Raphael Wust for generous assistance with initial interpretation discussions. The manuscript benefited from the constructive comments of Dr Rebecca Bartley and Dr Elisabeth Bui, CSIRO, the Submission Editor, Hugh Smith and two anonymous reviewers.
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