Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 404–420 | Cite as

Multi-Century Record of Anthropogenic Impacts on an Urbanized Mesotidal Estuary: Salem Sound, MA

  • J. Bradford Hubeny
  • Ellen Kristiansen
  • Andrew Danikas
  • Jun Zhu
  • Francine M. G. McCarthy
  • Mark G. Cantwell
  • Barbara Warren
  • Douglas Allen


Salem, MA, located north of Boston, has a rich, well-documented history dating back to settlement in 1626 ce, but the associated anthropogenic impacts on Salem Sound are poorly constrained. This project utilized dated sediment cores from the sound to assess the proxy record of anthropogenic alterations to the system and compared the proxy records to the known history. Proxies included bulk stable isotopes of organic matter, magnetic susceptibility, and trace metal concentrations. Our data reveal clear changes in organic matter composition and concentration associated with land use changes and twentieth century sewage disposal practices. Further, metal data correspond with local industrial activity, particularly the historic tanning industry in Peabody, MA. Although conservation practices of past decades have improved the state of Salem Sound, the stratigraphic record demonstrates that the environment is still affected by anthropogenic influences, and has not attained conditions consistent with pre-anthropogenic baseline. The approach and results of this study are applicable to coastal embayments that are being assessed for remediation, especially those with scant historic or monitoring data.


Sewage effluent Legacy contaminant Stable isotopes Sediment core Anthropocene 



This project was supported by Salem Sound Coastwatch with funding from the Northeast Coastal Monitoring Collaborative which received Congressional funding, and we acknowledge the support of Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry as well as Congressmen John Tierney, Nikki Tsongas, and Bill Delahunt. Additional support from National Science Foundation (EAR 1126128) is acknowledged. JBH acknowledges support from the SSU Academic Affairs Office, SSU College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office, D Sutherland, KCH, JCH, and LTH. We acknowledge helpful discussions on the history of the region with EW Baker, S Matchak, and D Morrison. Constructive comments by Associate Editor DR Corbett, W Gardner, R Knudstup, and three anonymous reviewers have made this a stronger contribution.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Annadale, M.C., J.B. Hubeny, and K. Monecke. 2017. Determining the late Quaternary geologic and relative sea level history of Salem Harbor using dated sediment cores and sub-bottom geophysics. GSA Abstracts with Programs 49. doi: 10.1130/abs/2017NE-291093
  2. Appleby, P.G. 2001. Chronostratigraphic techniques in recent sediments. In Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments, ed. W. Last and J. Smol. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  3. Bates, A.L., E.C. Spiker, P.G. Hatcher, A.A. Stout, and V.C. Weintraub. 1995. Sulfur geochemistry of organic-rich sediments from Mud Lake, Florida, U.S.A. Chemical Geology 121: 245–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bindler, R., J. Rydberg, and I. Renberg. 2011. Establishing natural sediment reference conditions for metals and the legacy of long-range and local pollution on lakes in Europe. Journal of Paleolimnology 45: 519–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Birch, G.F., and M.A. Olmos. 2008. Sediment-bound heavy metals as indicators of human influence and biological risk in coastal water bodies. ICES Journal of Marine Science 65: 1407–1413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blaauw, M., and J.A. Christen. 2011. Flexible paleoclimate age-depth models using an autoregression gamma process. Bayesian Analysis 6: 457–474.Google Scholar
  7. Blundon, J.A., and V.S. Kennedy. 1982. Refuges for infaunal bivalves from blue crab, Callinectes sapidus (Rathbun), predation in Chesapeake Bay. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 65: 67–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boglione, R.L., and J.B. Hubeny. 2014. Sub-bottom SONAR stratigraphy and Quaternary geologic history of Middle Ground, Salem Sound, Massachusetts. GSA Abstracts with Programs 46.Google Scholar
  9. Bowditch, N. 1834. Chart of the harbours of Salem, Marblehead, Beverly and Manchester: From a survey taken in the years 1804, 5 & 6: Hooker & Fairman.Google Scholar
  10. Brodie, C.R., T.H.E. Heaton, M.J. Leng, C.P. Kendrick, J.S.L. Casford, and J.M. Lloyd. 2011. Evidence for bias in measured δ15N values of terrestrial and aquatic organic materials due to pre-analysis acid treatment methods. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 25: 1089–1099.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cantwell, M., J.C. Sullivan, D.R. Katz, R.M. Burgess, J.B. Hubeny, and J. King. 2015. Source determination of benzotriazoles in sediment cores from two urban estuaries on the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Marine Pollution Bulletin 101: 208–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chase, B.C., J.H. Plouff, and W.M. Castonguay. 2002. The marine resources of Salem Sound, 1997: Technical Report TR-6, 143: MA Division of Marine Fisheries.Google Scholar
  13. Cravotta, C.A., III. 1997. Use of Stable Isotopes of Carbon, Nitrogen, and Sulfur to Identify Sources of Nitrogen in Surface Waters in the Lower Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania: U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY WATER-SUPPLY PAPER 2497, 99.Google Scholar
  14. Cronon, W. 1983. Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  15. Cultrera, J., B. Quinn, J. Stanton, and H. Ferrini. 1991. Leather Soul: Working for a Life in a Factory Town. New York: Picture Business Productions.Google Scholar
  16. Dean, W.E., Jr. 1974. Determination of carbonate and organic matter in calcareous sediments and sedimentary rocks by loss-on-ignition: comparison with other methods. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 44: 242–248.Google Scholar
  17. Deely, J.M., and J.E. Fergusson. 1994. Heavy metal and organic matter concentrations and distributions in dated sediments of a small estuary adjacent to a small urban area. Science of the Total Environment 153: 97–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Evans, M.E., and F. Heller. 2003. Environmental magnetism: Principles and applications of enviromagnetics. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  19. Faegri, K., and J. Iversen. 1989. Textbook of pollen analysis. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  20. Felt, J.B. 1845. Annals of Salem. Salem: W. & S.B. Ives.Google Scholar
  21. Hammer, Ø., D.A.T. Harper, and P.D. Ryan. 2001. PAST: Paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. Palaeontologia Electronica 4: 9pp.Google Scholar
  22. Harris, D., W.R. Horwath, and C. van Kessel. 2001. Acid fumigation of soils to remove carbonates prior to total organic carbon or carbon-13 analysis. Soil Society of America Journal 65: 1853–1856.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hein, C.J., D.M. Fitz Gerald, E.A. Carruthers, B.D. Stone, W.A. Barnhardt, and A.M. Gontz. 2012. Refining the model of barrier island formation along a paraglacial coast in the Gulf of Maine. Marine Geology 307-310: 40–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Heiri, O., A.F. Lotter, and G. Lemcke. 2001. Loss on ignition as a method for estimating organic and carbonate content in sediments: Reproducibility and comparability of results. Journal of Paleolimnology 25: 101–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Heller, F., Z. Strzyszcz, and T. Magiera. 1998. Magnetic record of industrial pollution in forest soils of Upper Silesia, Poland. Journal of Geophysical Research 103: 17767–17774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hubeny, J.B., J.W. King, and M. Cantwell. 2009. Anthropogenic influences on estuarine sedimentation and ecology: Examples from the varved sediments of the Pettaquamscutt River Estuary, Rhode Island. Journal of Paleolimnology 41: 297–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hubeny, J.B., M. Kenney, B. Warren, and J. Louisos. 2017. Multi-faceted monitoring of estuarine turbidity and particulate matter provenance: Case study from Salem Harbor, USA. Science of the Total Environment 574: 629–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jerome, W.C., A.P. Cheshmore, and C.O. Anderson, Jr. 1967. A study of the marine resources of Beverly-Salem Harbor. Monography Series No. 4. Mass. Div. Mar. Fisheries., 74.Google Scholar
  29. Kennish, M.J. 2002. Environmental threats and environmental future of estuaries. Environmental Conservation 29: 78–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. King, J., J.B. Hubeny, C. Gibson, E. Laliberte, K. Ford, M. Cantwell, R. McKinney, and P.G. Appleby. 2008. Anthropogenic eutrophication of Narragansett Bay: Evidence from dated sediment cores. In Science for ecosystem-based management: Narragansett Bay in the 21st century, ed. A. Desbonnet and B.A. Costa-Pierce. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  31. Lima, A.L., J.B. Hubeny, C.M. Reddy, J.W. King, K.A. Hughen, and T.I. Eglinton. 2005. High-resolution historical records from Pettaquamscutt River basin sediments: 1. 210Pb and varve chronologies validate record of 137Cs released by the Chernobyl accident. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 69: 1803–1812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Long, E.R., D.D. MacDonald, S.L. Smith, and F.D. Calder. 1995. Evidence of adverse biological effects within ranges of chemical concentrations in marine and estuarine sediments. Environmental Management 19: 81–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. MacDonald, D.A. 1991. Status and trends in concentrations of selected contaminants in Boston Harbor sediments and biota: NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS OMA 56, 232.Google Scholar
  34. McAndrews, J.H., A.A. Berti, and G. Norris. 1973. Key to the Quaternary pollen and spores of the Great Lakes region. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum of Life Sciences Misc Publ 64 p.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McCarthy, F.M.G., K.N. Mertens, M. Ellegaard, K. Sherman, V. Pospelova, S. Ribeiro, S. Blasco, and D. Vercauteren. 2011. Resting cysts of freshwater dinoflagellates in southeastern Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) as proxies of cultural eutrophication. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 166: 46–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McIntyre, H., and H.E.B. Taylor. 1851. Map of the city of Salem, Mass: from an actual survey. Philadelphia: Henry McIntyre.Google Scholar
  37. McNeely, R., A.S. Dyke, and J.R. Southon. 2006. Canadian marine reservoir ages, preliminary data assessment, Open File 5049, ed. G.S. Canada, 3.Google Scholar
  38. Meyers, P.A. 1994. Preservation of elemental and isotopic source identification of sedimentary organic matter. Chemical Geology 114: 289–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mullins, C.E. 1977. Magnetic susceptibility of the soil and its significance in soil science. Journal of Soil Science 28: 223–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mwinyihija, M. 2010. Ecotoxicological diagnosis in the Tanning Industry: Springer Science & Business Media.Google Scholar
  41. Nowaczyk, N.R. 2001. Logging of magnetic susceptibility. In Tracking environmental change using lake sediments. Volume 1: Basin analysis, coring, and chronological techniques, ed. W.M. Last and J.P. Smol, 155–170. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Oldale, R.N., S.M. Colman, and G.A. Jones. 1993. Radiocarbon ages from two submerged strandline features in the western Gulf of Maine and a sea-level curve for the northeastern Massachusetts coastal region. Quaternary Research 40: 38–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Oldfield, F., B.A. Maher, J. Donoghue, and J. Pierce. 1985. Particle-size related, mineral magnetic source sediment linkages in the Rhode River catchment, Maryland, USA. Journal of the Geological Society 142: 1035–1046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Olsson, I. 1986. Radiometric Methods. In Handbook of Holocene palaeoecology and palaeohydrology, ed. B. Berglund, 273–312. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  45. Perley, S. 1933. Part of Salem in 1700. Salem: James Duncan Phillips.Google Scholar
  46. Reimer, P.J., E. Bard, A. Bayliss, J.W. Beck, P.G. Blackwell, C.B. Ramsey, C.E. Buck, H. Cheng, R.L. Edwards, M. Friedrich, P.M. Grootes, T.P. Guilderson, H. Haflidason, I. Hajdas, C. Hatté, T.J. Heaton, D.L. Hoffman, A.G. Hogg, K.A. Hughen, K.F. Kaiser, B. Kromer, S.W. Manning, M. Niu, R.W. Reimer, D.A. Richards, E.M. Scott, J.R. Southon, R.A. Staff, C.S.M. Turney, and J. van der Plicht. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50, 000 Years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55: 1869–1887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ridge, J.C. 2003. The last deglaciation of the northeastern United States: a combined varve, paleomagnetic, and calibrated 14C chronology. In Geoarchaeology of landscapes in the glaciated Northeast: New York State Museum Bulletin 497, ed. D.L. Cremeens and J.P. Hart, 15–45. Albany: University of the State of New York.Google Scholar
  48. Ridge, J.C. 2004. The Quaternary glaciation of western New England with correlations to surrounding areas. In Quaternary glaciations—extent and chronology, ed. J. Ehlers and P.L. Gibbard, 169–199. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  49. Schnurrenberger, D., J. Russell, and K. Kelts. 2003. Classification of lacustrine sediments based on sedimentary components. Journal of Paleolimnology 29: 141–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sharp, Z. 2006. Principles of Stable Isotope Geochemistry. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  51. Sowers, A.A., and G.S. Brush. 2014. A paleoecological history of the Late Precolonial and Postcolonial mesohaline Chesapeake Bay food web. Estuaries and Coasts 37: 1506–1515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Steele, K.W., and R.M.J. Daniel. 1978. Fractionation of nitrogen isotopes by animals: a further complication to the use of variations in the natural abundance of 15N for tracer studies. The Journal of Agricultural Science 90: 7–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stockmarr, J. 1971. Tablets with spores used in absolute pollen analysis. Pollen et Spores 13: 615–621.Google Scholar
  54. Stone, B.D., J.R. Stone, and L.J. McWeeney. 2004. Where the glacier met the sea: late quaternary geology of the northeast coast of Massachusetts from Cape Ann to Salisbury. In New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, Salem, Massachusetts, Trip B-3 ed. L. Hanson, 25 pp.Google Scholar
  55. Sutoh, M., T. Koyama, and T. Yoneyama. 1987. Variations of natural 15N abundances in the tissues and digesta of domestic animals. Radioisotopes 36: 74–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sutoh, M., Y. Obara, and T. Yoneyama. 1993. The effects of feeding regimen and dietary sucrose supplementation on natural abundance of 15N in some components of ruminal fluid and plasma of sheep. Journal of Animal Science 71: 226–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tomkins, J.D., D. Antoniades, S.F. Lamoureux, and W.F. Vincent. 2008. A simple and effective method for preserving the sediment–water interface of sediment cores during transport. Journal of Paleolimnology 40: 577–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tostevin, R., A.V. Turchyn, J. Farquhar, D.T. Johnston, D.L. Eldridge, J.K.B. Bishop, and M. McIlvin. 2014. Multiple sulfur isotope constraints on the modern sulfur cycle. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 396: 14–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Toulmin, P. 1964. Bedrock geology of the Salem Quadrangle and vicinity, Massachusetts. In U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1163-A.Google Scholar
  60. Valette-Silver, N.J. 1993. The use of sediment cores to reconstruct historical trends in contamination of estuarine and coastal sediments. Estuaries 16: 577–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vickers, D. 1994. Farmers and fishermen: two centuries of work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  62. Willard, D.A., T.M. Cronin, and S. Verardo. 2003. Late-Holocene climate and ecosystem history from Chesapeake Bay sediment cores, USA. The Holocene 13: 201–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wittmer, M., K. Auerswald, P. Schönbach, Y. Bai, and H. Schnyder. 2011. 15N fractionation between vegetation, soil, faeces and wool is not influenced by stocking rate. Plant and Soil 340: 25–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wright, E. 1935. Disposal of sewage from the South Essex Sewerage District, Salem, Massachusetts. Sewage Works Journal 7: 663–672.Google Scholar
  65. Zen, E.-A., G.R. Goldsmith, N.L. Ratcliffe, P. Robinson, and R.S. Stanley. 1983. Bedrock geologic map of Massachusetts. In Monograph Series, ed. USGS.Google Scholar
  66. Zhu, J., and C.R. Olsen. 2009. Beryllium-7 atmospheric deposition and sediment inventories in the Neponset River estuary, Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 100: 192–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesSalem State UniversitySalemUSA
  2. 2.Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control BoardLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Earth Sciences DepartmentBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada
  4. 4.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and DevelopmentNarragansettUSA
  5. 5.Salem Sound CoastwatchSalemUSA

Personalised recommendations