Transfer of radiocaesium from contaminated bottom sediments to marine organisms through benthic food chains in post-Fukushima and post-Chernobyl periods
After the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011 damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP), an accidental release of a large amount of radioactive isotopes into both the air and the ocean occurred. Measurements provided by the Japanese agencies over the past 5 years show that elevated concentrations of 137Cs still remain in sediments, benthic organisms, and demersal fishes in the coastal zone around the FDNPP. These observations indicate that there are 137Cs transfer pathways from bottom sediments to the marine organisms. To describe the transfer quantitatively, the dynamic food chain biological uptake model of radionuclides (BURN) has been extended to include benthic marine organisms. The extended model takes into account both pelagic and benthic marine organisms grouped into several classes based on their trophic level and type of species: phytoplankton, zooplankton, and fishes (two types: piscivorous and non-piscivorous) for the pelagic food chain; deposit-feeding invertebrates, demersal fishes fed by benthic invertebrates, and bottom omnivorous predators for the benthic food chain; crustaceans, mollusks, and coastal predators feeding on both pelagic and benthic organisms. Bottom invertebrates ingest organic parts of bottom sediments with adsorbed radionuclides which then migrate up through the food chain. All organisms take radionuclides directly from water as well as food. The model was implemented into the compartment model POSEIDON-R and applied to the north-western Pacific for the period of 1945-2010, and then for the period of 2011-2020 to assess the radiological consequences of 137Cs released due to the FDNPP accident. The model simulations for activity concentrations of 137Cs in both pelagic and benthic organisms in the coastal area around the FDNPP agree well with measurements for the period of 2011-2015. The decrease constant in the fitted exponential function of simulated concentration for the deposit-feeding invertebrates (0.45 yr-1) is close to the observed decrease constant in sediments (0.44 yr-1). These results strongly indicate that the gradual decrease of activity in demersal fish (decrease constant is 0.46 yr-1) is caused by the transfer of activity from organic matter deposited in bottom sediment through the deposit-feeding invertebrates. The estimated model transfer coefficient from bulk sediment to demersal fish in the model for 2012-2020 (0.13) is larger than that to the deposit-feeding invertebrates (0.07). In addition, the transfer of 137Cs through food webs for the period of 1945-2020 has been modelled for the Baltic Sea contaminated due to global fallout and from the Chernobyl accident. The model simulation results obtained with generic parameters are also in good agreement with available measurements in the Baltic Sea. Unlike the open coastal system where the FDNPP is located, the dynamics of radionuclide transfer in the Baltic Sea reach a quasi-steady state due to the slow rate in water mass exchange in this semi-enclosed basin. Obtained results indicate a substantial contribution of the benthic food chain in the long-term transfer of 137Cs from contaminated bottom sediments to marine organisms and the potential application of a generic model in different regions of the world's oceans.