Estuarine and coastal ecosystems provide multiple ecological, social and economic services. They are a source of food, income and are at the heart of marine trade, merchant shipping and sea transport. They therefore play a key role in our modern world and their conservation from an environmental point of view is today critical.
Despite all the efforts done in environmental management, pollution associated with the rapid coastal development and intensive industrialization was certain and still remains one of the main threats towards marine ecosystems today. Specifically, trace metal contamination is of high concern as coastal areas are generally prone to accumulate them. Most trace metals exhibit a dual role in marine waters: they act as nutrients in low concentrations, yet rapidly have toxic effects in higher concentration ranges. Continuous monitoring of their concentrations in estuarine and coastal ecosystems is therefore needed to better understand their biogeochemical behavior in such marine environments. However, limited knowledge exists on their bioavailability towards marine organisms: especially as the toxicity of these metals is not only related to their concentration but also strongly linked with their speciation which shows both seasonal and spatial variations.
Thus, the main objective of this PhD research was to investigate the biogeochemical cycles of various trace metals and unravel their speciation and bioavailability in various aquatic systems: from very dynamic mixing zones of the Scheldt estuary to coastal harbors and shallow seawaters of the North Sea, and even to deeper and anoxic regions of the Baltic Sea. Trace metal concentrations and speciation were explored seasonally and spatially along horizontal and vertical gradients, and a comparison of classic active samplings of dissolved trace metals with a passive sampling technique (Diffusive Gradients in Thin-films; DGT) was carried out. The DGT technique was successfully used for the in-situ measurement of labile metals and eventually constitutes a good surrogate to the biomonitoring of trace elements (e.g. use of mussels, algae, etc.). This method offsets the lack of knowledge in terms of water quality monitoring and the results challenge the classic criteria which are used by international regulatory requirements (e.g. WFD, MSFD) and local commitments (e.g. OSPAR, HELCOM). Indeed, new criteria based on labile metal species instead of total dissolved species should be considered in the future.
Such approach of trace metal speciation and assessment in aquatic systems could surely lead to a more integrated environmental management and improve our knowledge on anthropogenic impacts and pollutant fluxes. Moreover, it is eventually the main key to explain and predict bioavailability and potential toxicity of trace metals to the marine fauna and flora. This work therefore invites you to dive into a journey along our coasts, from urbanized areas to wild open seas, from their surface to their deepest waters.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Gao, Yue, Supervisor
  • Billon, Gabriel, Supervisor, External person
Award date16 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2020

    Research areas

  • Trace metal cycling, Speciation, Bioavailability, Diffusive gradients in thin-film (DGT), coastal waters, Estuary, Water column, Environmental chemistry, Water pollution

ID: 53110252