Profiles of 210Pb and 239 + <240Pu from sediment cores collected throughout Massachusetts Bay (water depths of 36-192 m) are interpreted with the aid of a numerical sediment-mixing model to infer bioturbation depths, rates and processes. The nuclide data suggest extensive bioturbation to depths of 25-35 cm. Roughly half the cores have 210Pb and 239 + 240Pu profiles that decrease monotonically from the surface and are consistent with biodiffusive mixing. Bioturbation rates are reasonably well constrained by these profiles and vary from ~0.7 to ~40 cm2 yr-1. As a result of this extensive reworking, however, sediment ages cannot be accurately determined from these radionuclides and only upper limits on sedimentation rates (of ~0.3 cm yr-1) can be inferred. The other half of the radionuclide profiles are characterized by subsurface maxima in each nuclide, which cannot be reproduced by biodiffusive mixing models. A numerical model is used to demonstrate that mixing caused by organisms that feed at the sediment surface and defecate below the surface can cause the subsurface maxima, as suggested by previous work. The deep penetration depths of excess 210Pb and 239 + 240Pu suggest either that the organisms release material over a range of >15 cm depth or that biodiffusive mixing mediated by other organisms is occurring at depth. Additional constraints from surficial sediment 234Th data suggest that in this half of the cores, the vast majority of the present-day flux of recent, nuclide-bearing material to these core sites is transported over a timescale of a month or more to a depth of a few centimeters below the sediment surface. As a consequence of the complex mixing processes, surface sediments include material spanning a range of ages and will not accurately record recent changes in contaminant deposition.
Additional publication details
Bioturbation depths, rates and processes in Massachusetts Bay sediments inferred from modeling of 210Pb and 239 + 240Pu profiles