Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 68, Issue 4, pp 1053–1063 | Cite as

Seasonal and spatial dynamics of trace elements in water and sediment from Pearl River Estuary, South China

  • Dawen Zhang
  • Xia Zhang
  • Lei Tian
  • Feng Ye
  • Xiaoping Huang
  • Yanyi Zeng
  • Minling Fan
Original Article


In this study, spatial and seasonal dynamics of trace elements (Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd, As) in water and sediments were examined in the Pearl River Estuary (PRE), South China. The spatial variations of all the studied trace elements in sediments show the general decrease pattern from northwest to southeast side of the PRE, suggesting that the main sources of these trace elements may originate from terrestrial (rock and soil) weathering and human activities (e.g. agricultural, industrial and municipal wastewaters) via riverine inputs. The dissolved Cu, Pb, Cd, As, and Zn in PRE ranged from 0.34 to 3.26, 0.19 to 4.58, 0.0015 to 0.30, 0.16 to 8.18, 3.74 to 36.10 μg/L, respectively. There are obvious seasonal changes of dissolved trace elements in the PRE aquatic system. The maximum seasonal averages of all the dissolved trace elements excluding Zn were observed in summer, whereas dissolved Zn showed the minimum in this season. The overall spatial pattern of all the dissolved trace elements excluding Zn demonstrates decreasing trends from inshore to offshore, and the highest concentrations of dissolved Cu, Cd, As, and Zn appeared in the western part of PRE or the mouths of Pearl River, suggesting strong riverine and anthropogenic local inputs. PCA and correlation analysis show that the geochemical behavior of dissolved Cu and As are complicated and the dynamics of these two elements are controlled by various physicochemical parameters, whereas physicochemical parameters might play a relatively small role in the distributions of other studied trace elements.


Trace elements Spatial variations Seasonal changes Sediments Pearl River Estuary 



Sincere thanks are given to Wu Meilin, Lin Li, Deng Chao, Peng Yalan, and Wang Yutu for providing fieldwork support. This research was supported by both the Project of Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant NO. KZCX2-YW-Q07) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41076069 and 40776086).


  1. Akçay H, Oğuz A, Karapire C (2003) Study of heavy metal pollution and speciation in Büyük Menderes and Gediz River sediments. Water Res 37:813–822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. AOAC (Association of Official Analytical Chemists) (1990) AOAC official methods of analysis (15th edn). Arlington, USAGoogle Scholar
  3. Attrill MJ, Thomas RM (1995) Heavy metal concentrations in sediment from the Thames Estuary, UK. Mar Pollut Bull 30:742–744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brand LE, Sunda WG, Guillard RRL (1983) Limitation of marine phytoplankton reproductive rates by zinc, manganese, and iron. Limnol Oceanogr 28:1182–1195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Croudace IW, Cundy AB (1995) Heavy metal and hydrocarbon pollution in recent sediments from Southampton Water, southern England: a geochemical and isotopic study. Environ Sci Technol 29:1288–1296Google Scholar
  6. Fan CX, Zhu YX, Ji ZJ, Zhang L, Yang LY (2002) Characteristics of the pollution of heavy metals in the sediments of Yilihe River, Taihu Basin. J Lake Sci 14:235–241 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  7. Fang T, Li XD, Zhang G (2005) Acid volatile sulfide and simultaneously extracted metals in the sediment cores of the Pearl River Estuary, South China. Ecotoxicol Environ Safe 61:420–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. GEPB (Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau) (1983) Report on Environmental Quality in Guangdong Province (1982). GEPB, GuangzhouGoogle Scholar
  9. GEPB (Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau) (2003) Report on Environmental Quality in Guangdong Province (2002). GEPB, GuangzhouGoogle Scholar
  10. He YQ, Wen WY (1982) Distribution and concentrations of some heavy metals in the offshore bottom sediments, Guangdong Province. Tropic Oceanol 1:58–71 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  11. Hong LY, Hong HS, Xu L, Chen WQ, Wang XH, Zhang LP (2000) Concentrations and distributions of Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd in surface sediments of waters and bivalves of aquatic area in Mingjiang Estuary and Mazu. J Xiamen Univ 39:89–95 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  12. Huang XQ, Zhang SZ, Huo ZH (2005) Heavy metal distribution in seawater in Dapeng Bay of Shenzhen and the Pearl River estuary. Trans Oceanol Limnol 4:38–44 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  13. Ip CCM, Li XD, Zhang G, Wai OWH, Li YS (2007) Trace metal distribution in sediments of the Pearl River Estuary and the surrounding coastal area, South China. Environ Pollut 147:311–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jones B, Turki A (1997) Distribution and speciation of heavy metals in surficial sediments from the Tees Estuary, North East England. Mar Pollut Bull 34:768–779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ju HF (2004) FAAS determination of heavy metal ions in ground water after preconcentration by ion-exchange. Phys Testing Chem Anal Part B Chem Anal 40:661–663 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  16. Kim Y, Kim BK, Kim K (2010) Distribution and speciation of heavy metals and their sources in Kumho River sediment, Korea. Environ Earth Sci 60:943–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kucuksezgin F, Uluturhan E, Batki H (2008) Distribution of heavy metals in water, particulate matter and sediments of Gediz River (Eastern Aegean). Environ Monit Assess 141:213–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Li R, Feng S, Jiang WP (1997) Industrial development of Hong Kong and Pearl River Delta: opportunities and strategies. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Department of Manufacturing Engineering and the Hong Kong Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology Ltd, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  19. Li XD, Shen ZG, Wai OWH, Li YS (2001) Chemical forms of Pb, Zn and Cu in the sediment profiles of the Pearl River Estuary. Mar Pollut Bull 42:215–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Li XD, Thornton I (2001) Chemical partitioning of trace and major elements in soils contamination by mining and smelting activities. Appl Geochem 16:1693–1706CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Li XD, Wai OWH, Coles BJ, Ramsey MH, Thornton I (2000) Heavy metal distribution in sediment profiles of the Pearl River estuary, South China. Appl Geochem 15:567–581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Li Y, Yu ZM, Cao XH, Song XX (2005) Distribution and enrichment of heavy metals in surface sediments of Jiaozhou Bay. Trans Oceanol Limnol 36:580–588 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  23. Lin ZH, Liang SH (1995) Modern sedimentary environment and heavy metal content distribution in bottom load in Pearl River estuary. Bull Mar Sci 14:43–49 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  24. Liu BL, Hu K, Jiang ZL, Yang J, Luo XM, Liu AH (2011) Distribution and enrichment of heavy metals in a sediment core from the Pearl River Estuary. Environ Earth Sci 62:267–275Google Scholar
  25. Loska K, Wiechula D (2003) Application of principal component analysis for the estimation of source heavy metal contamination in surface sediments from Rybnik Reservoir. Chemosphere 51:723–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martínez-Villegas N, Flores-Vélez LM, Domínguez O (2004) Sorption of lead in soil as a function of pH: a study case in México. Chemosphere 57:1537–1542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Niu HY, Deng WJ, Wu QH, Chen XG (2009) Potential toxic risk of heavy metals from sediment of the Pearl River in South China. J Environ Sci 21:1053–1058CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Peng XT, Zhou HY, Weng HX, Pan JM, Chen GQ (2003) Characteristics of major elements’ constitutions and distributions in sediments of the Lingdingyang in the Pearl River Estuary and their geochemical implication. J Zhejiang Univ 30:697–702 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  29. Qi S, Leipe T, Rueckert P, Di Z, Harff J (2010) Geochemical sources, deposition and enrichment of heavy metals in short sediment cores from the Pearl River Estuary. J Mar Syst 82:S28–S42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rainbow PS, Poirier L, Smith BD, Brix KV, Luoma SN (2006) Trophic transfer of trace metals from the polychaete worm Nereis diversicolor to the polychaete N. virens and the decapod crustacean Palaemonetes varians. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 321:167–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sadiq M (1992) Toxic metal chemistry in marine environments. Marcel Dekker, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Shen JJ, Fan DJ, Yang DF, Qi HY, Xu L (2008) Distribution patterns of heavy metals in surface sediments of the Yangtze Estuary and its adjacent areas and environmental quality assessment. Chin J Environ Sci 29:2405–2412 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  33. Stoffers P, Summerhayes C, Forstner U, Patchineelam SR (1977) Copper and other heavy metal contamination in sediments from New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts: a preliminary note. Environ Sci Technol 11:819–821CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sun QL, Liu DY, Liu T, Di BP, Wu F (2012) Temporal and spatial distribution of trace metals in sediments from the northern Yellow Sea coast, China: implications for regional anthropogenic processes. Environ Earth Sci. doi: 10.1007/s12665-011-1277-4
  35. Turgut C (2003) The contamination with organochlorine pesticides and heavy metals in surface water in Küçük Menderes River in Turkey. Environ Int 29:29–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wang SS, Cao ZM, Lan DZ, Zheng ZC, Li GH (2008) Concentration distribution and assessment of several heavy metals in sediments of west-four Pear River Estuary. Environ Geol 55:963–975CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wang ZH, Lin Q, Li CH, Huang HH, Yang ML, Gan JL, Cai WG (2004) Variation features and ecological assessment of heavy metals from Pearl River estuary. J Fish Sci China 11:214–219 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  38. Wu XY, Liu RH, Sun PY, Gao ZH, Jia YG (2007) Study on the variance character of heavy metals contents in sediments in Yellow River Estuary. Trans Oceanol Limnol 1:69–74 (in Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dawen Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xia Zhang
    • 1
  • Lei Tian
    • 1
    • 3
  • Feng Ye
    • 1
  • Xiaoping Huang
    • 1
  • Yanyi Zeng
    • 1
  • Minling Fan
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography, South China Sea Institute of OceanologyChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Institute for Quality & Safety and Standards of Agricultural Products ResearchJiangxi Academy of Agricultural SciencesNanchangPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Shaanxi Research Design Institute of Petroleum and Chemical IndustryXi’anPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations