Seawater inundation of coastal floodplain sediments: short-term changes in surface water and sediment geochemistry

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Wong, VNL, Johnston, SG, Burton, ED, Hirst, P, Sullivan, LA, Bush, RT & Blackford, M 2014, 'Seawater inundation of coastal floodplain sediments: short-term changes in surface water and sediment geochemistry', Chemical Geology, vol. 398, pp. 32-45.

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Coastal floodplains are highly vulnerable to seawater inundation as a result of storm surge and sea-level rise due to their low elevation and proximity to the coastline. Intact soil cores from a levee, acid-sulfate soil scald and four backswamp sites on a coastal floodplain in eastern Australia were inundated with artificial seawater treatments (0%, 50% and 100%) for 14 days to examine the short term consequences for surface water and floodplain sediment geochemistry. All sites displayed an initial decrease in surface water pH following inundation with 50% and 100% seawater. In addition, higher concentrations of trace metals (Al, Fe, Mn, Ni and Zn) were observed in most sites inundated with 50% or 100% seawater. This was generally attributed to competitive exchange and desorption of trace metals from sediments due to the higher ionic strength of the seawater solutions and upward diffusive flux of metals from the sediments to surface waters. At one backswamp site, reductive processes had established by day 7, which also resulted in elevated Fe2 + concentrations in the overlying surface waters. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) identified the presence of poorly crystalline ferrihydrite and schwertmannite, and goethite and jarosite. These meta-stable Fe(III) minerals can act as a source of metals for desorption and can also be readily reduced and act as a source of Fe2 + to surface waters. Importantly, inundation with either 50% or 100% seawater resulted in a similar magnitude of acidity and trace metal mobilisation. The data suggest that an inundation event of ~ 0.2 m depth with either 50% or 100% seawater could cause a pulse mobilisation of up to 64.8 and 9.1 kg ha− 1 of Fe and Al, respectively — quantities of similar magnitude to previous estimates of annual drainage fluxes from similar backswamps. This study suggests that the short term inundation of coastal floodplain sediments by either brackish water or seawater will result in rapid declines in surface water quality as a result of increased liberation of acidity and trace metals.