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Journal Articles Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science Year : 2002

Behaviour of Organic Carbon in Nine Contrasting European Estuaries


A cross-system comparison of organic carbon origin and behaviour in nine European estuaries is presented. The study sites display a very large range of hydrological and environmental conditions. The watershed of the respective estuaries were characterized by plotting the total organic carbon (TOC) in the rivers versus the inhabitants/discharge ratio. This allows to distinguish four types of watershed with regard to anthropogenic forcing and organic carbon levels: polluted by sewage inputs (Scheldt and to a much lesser extent, Ems, Sado and Thames), decontaminated (Elbe and Rhine), pristine (Gironde and Douro) and eutrophized (Loire and Scheldt). In the estuarine zone, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) almost always decreased linearly with increasing salinity. Exceptions were: the Scheldt, where a net consumption of sewage-derived DOC was observed, the Gironde, where a net production of DOC occurred in the maximum turbidity zone (MTZ) and the Sado and Ems, where DOC was supplied from large intertidal areas. By contrast, a large fraction of the riverine particulate organic carbon (POC) was mineralized in all the estuaries, except the Douro, where residence time of waters is only a few days. A fraction of POC appeared however refractory and accumulated in the MTZs, where terrestrial soil-derived material dominates (Elbe, Ems, Loire, Gironde and Sado). In the marine regions of most estuaries, autochthonous POC was present during spring and summer. The analysis of all river and estuarine data allows estimation of the loss of continental POC occurring in each estuary. It decreases in the following order: Scheldt≫Thames>Ems=Sado=Loire>Gironde>Elbe>Rhine>Douro, which almost corresponds to the anthropogenic pressure in the respective watersheds. Two major variables appear to control the intensity of this mineralization: the origin of the POC, the lability increasing with pollution, and the residence time of particles in the estuarine zone.

Dates and versions

insu-03619000 , version 1 (24-03-2022)



G. Abril, M. Nogueira, H. Etcheber, G. Cabeçadas, E. Lemaire, et al.. Behaviour of Organic Carbon in Nine Contrasting European Estuaries. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 2002, 54, pp.241-262. ⟨10.1006/ecss.2001.0844⟩. ⟨insu-03619000⟩


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