Trace Metal Cycling
Trace Metal Cycling
Like many other elements, natural background levels of trace elements exist in crustal rocks, such as shales, sandstones, and metamorphic and igneous rocks (Benjamin and Honeyman, 2000). In particular, the majority of trace metals are derived from igneous rocks, simply based on the relative fraction of igneous rocks in comparison with sedimentary and metamorphic rocks in the Earth’s crust. The release of trace metals from crustal sources is largely controlled by the natural forces of physical and chemical weathering of rocks, notwithstanding large-scale anthropogenic disturbances such as mining, construction, and coal burning (release of fly ash). As discussed later in the chapter, adjustments can be made for anthropogenic loading to different ecosystems based on an enrichment factor which compares metal concentrations in the ecosphere to average crustal composition. Biological effects of weathering, such as plant root growth and organic acid release associated with respiration also contribute to these weathering processes. As some trace metals are more volatile than others, release due to volcanic activity represents another source of metals with such properties (e.g., Pb, Cd, As, and Hg). Just as Goldschmidt (1954) grouped elements (e.g., siderophiles, chalcophiles, lithophiles, andatomophiles) based on similarities in geochemical properties, trace metals also represent a group of elements with similar chemical properties. One particularly important distinguishing feature of these elements is their ability to bond reversibly to a broad spectrum of compounds (Benjamin and Honeyman, 2000). Thus, the major inputs of trace metals to estuaries are derived from riverine, atmospheric, and anthropogenic sources. Although trace elements typically occur at concentrations of less than 1 ppb (part per billion) (or μg L−1, also reported in molar units), these elements are important in estuaries because of their toxic effects, as well as their importance as micronutrients for many organisms. The fate and transport of trace elements in estuaries are controlled by a variety of factors ranging from redox, ionic strength, abundance of adsorbing surfaces, and pH, just to name a few (Wen et al., 1999).
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