Transport and diagenesis of trace metals and organic matter in Palos Verdes shelf sediments affected by a wastewater outfall Academic Article uri icon


  • Particles from the Whites Point/JWPCP outfalls operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation District (LACSD) have been discharged onto the Palos Verdes (PV) shelf, Southern California, since the late 1930s. Since the early 1950s, they have made a significant contribution to the sedimentary deposits on the shelf. In order to study the transport and diagenesis of organic carbon (OC) and associated trace metals, replicate sediment cores were collected during 1996 and 1997 at four different sites at the 60 m isobath on the PV shelf, and analyzed for OC, Ag, Al, Cd, Cr, Cu, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn. We conclude from these results that a significant fraction of OC and associated heavy metals were transported laterally on silt particles from shallower environments. Cross-shelf transport of sediments caused multiple peaks in measured profiles of OC and trace metals at site 6C, 2 km away from the outfall. The same mechanism is likely to contribute to a concentration decrease that is smaller than that expected from decreases from the Whites Point outfall emissions. Based on Pb/OC ratios in sediments, deposited in 1971, and comparisons to the outfall from the same year, we estimate that 50 10% of the OC deposited in the early 1970s, now buried at 30-50 cm depth, had oxidized since that time, implying a half-life of about 26 years for the outfall-OC, as an upper limit. The average OC oxidation rate at peak depth (about 2 mg C cm-2 year-1) is, however, only about 10% of the present-day OC accumulation rate (20 mg C cm-2 year-1), which itself is adding not much more than 1% per year to the post-1950s OC inventory (1500 mg cm-2). We furthermore estimate that the OC inventory in PV shelf sediments in 1971 was equivalent to about 35% of that emitted by the outfall. OC and trace metal inventories did not decrease in the period 1981 to 1997, contrary to those of other contaminants such as DDTs and PCBs. 2001 Elsevier Science B.V.

published proceedings

  • Marine Chemistry

author list (cited authors)

  • Santschi, P. H., Wen, L., & Guo, L.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Santschi, Peter H||Wen, Liang-Saw||Guo, Laodong

publication date

  • February 2001