Biogeochemical processes affecting the distribution and vertical transport of hydrocarbon residues in the coastal Mediterranean
Sediments, sediment trap material, dominant surface plankton and collected fecal material were sampled concurrently with surface seawater in a coastal Mediterranean ecosystem and analyzed for non-volatile hydrocarbons and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Results showed consistent partitioning of hydrocarbon classes between dissolved and particulate phases of surface waters which appeared to be related to component solubility and particle availability. Analysis of biological materials showed the biota were important not only in packaging residues into large, fast sinking particles, but also in modifying the composition of components through metabolism and selective incorporation into body tissues and feces. Apparent sedimentation rate was calculated by analysis of 210Pb in sediment core samples and used to estimate average deposition rates of organics to the sea/sediment interface. The flux of particles through 100 m, as measured in the trap material in this sampling interval, was sufficient to balance most of the petroleum input to the sediments but accounted for only 17% of the average flux of PCBs to the sediments, and virtually none of the more soluble chlorinated hydrocarbon flux. Vertical transport via large fecal material compared to average background particles was seasonally low corresponding to a seasonal minimum in plankton biomass in late summer. Results show that hydrocarbon residues transported long distances away from input sources are highly modified, pointing to the geochemical significance of physical-chemical partitioning between seawater phases, incorporation into organisms and fecal material and biological/chemical degradation.