Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 23, Issue 11, pp 10426–10442 | Cite as

Biogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediments of the San Joaquin River in California (USA), and current paradigms on their formation

  • Stuart G. WakehamEmail author
  • Elizabeth A. Canuel
Recent sediments: environmental chemistry, ecotoxicology and engineering


Biogenic perylene and higher plant pentacyclic triterpenoid-derived alkylated and partially aromatized tetra- and pentacyclic derivatives of chrysene (3,4,7-trimethyl- and 3,3,7-trimethyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydrochrysene, THC) and picene (1,2,9-trimethyl- and 2,2,9-trimethyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydropicene, THP) were two- to four-fold more abundant than pyrogenic PAH in two sediment cores from the San Joaquin River in Northern California (USA). In a core from Venice Cut (VC), located in the river, PAH concentrations varied little downcore and the whole-core PAH concentration (biogenics + pyrogenics) was 250.6 ± 73.7 ng g−1 dw; biogenic PAH constituted 67 ± 4 % of total PAH. THC were 26 ± 9 % of total biogenic PAH, THP were 36 ± 7 %, and perylene was 38 ± 7 %. PAH distributions in a core from Franks Tract (FT), a former wetland that was converted to an agricultural tract in the late 1800s and flooded in 1938, were more variable. Surface sediments were dominated by pyrogenic PAH so that biogenic PAH were only ~30 % of total PAH. Deeper in the core, biogenic PAH constituted 60–93 % of total PAH; THC, THP and perylene were 31 ± 28 %, 24 ± 32 %, and 45 ± 36 % of biogenic PAH. At 100–103 cm depth, THP constituted 80 % of biogenic PAH and at 120–123 cm perylene was 95 % of biogenic PAH. Current concepts related to precursors and transformation processes responsible for the diagenetic generation of perylene and triterpenoid-derived PAH are discussed. Distributions of biogenic PAH in VC and FT sediments suggest that they may not form diagenetically within these sediments but rather might be delivered pre-formed from the river’s watershed.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Biogenic PAH Sacramento–San Joaquin delta Perylene Pentacyclic triterpenoid-derived PAH 



We thank Janet Thompson, Francis Parchaso and Byron Richards from the US Geological Survey (Menlo Park, CA) for assistance with site selection and sample collection. We also thank Beth Lerberg (VIMS) for lab and field assistance and Steve Kuehl and Linda Meneghini for field assistance. This study was supported by the National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, Ecosystems Program (DEB-0454736 and DEB-0454741) and Ocean Sciences Division (OCE-0962277). This paper is contribution 3499 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Skidaway Institute of OceanographyThe University of GeorgiaSavannahUSA
  2. 2.Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine ScienceCollege of William and MaryGloucester PointUSA

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