Uranium diagenesis in sediments underlying bottom waters with high oxygen content Academic Article uri icon


  • We measured U in sediments (both pore waters and solid phase) from three locations on the middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) from the eastern margin of the United States: a northern location on the continental shelf off Massachusetts (OC426, 75 m water depth), and two southern locations off North Carolina (EN433-1, 647 m water depth and EN433-2, 2648 m water depth). These sediments underlie high oxygen bottom waters (250-270 ?M), but become reducing below the sediment-water interface due to the relatively high organic carbon oxidation rates in sediments (EN433-1: 212 ?mol C/cm2/y; OC426: 120±10 ?mol C/cm2/y; EN433-2: 33 ?mol C/cm2/y). Pore water oxygen goes to zero by 1.4-1.5 cm at EN433-1 and OC426 and slightly deeper oxygen penetration depths were measured at EN433-2 (~4 cm). All of the pore water profiles show removal of U from pore waters. Calculated pore water fluxes are greatest at EN433-1 (0.66±0.08 nmol/cm2/y) and less at EN433-2 and OC426 (0.24±0.05 and 0.13±0.05 nmol/cm2/y, respectively). Solid phase profiles show authigenic U enrichment in sediments from all three locations. The average authigenic U concentrations are greater at EN433-1 and OC426 (5.8±0.7 nmol/g and 5.4±0.2 nmol/g, respectively) relative to EN433-2 (4.1±0.8 nmol/g). This progression is consistent with their relative ordering of ‘reduction intensity’, with greatest reducing conditions in sediments from EN433-1, less at OC426 and least at EN433-2. The authigenic U accumulation rate is largest at EN433-1 (0.47±0.05 nmol/cm2/y), but the average among the three sites on the MAB is ~0.2 nmol/cm2/y. Pore water profiles suggest diffusive fluxes across the sediment-water interface that are 1.4-1.7 times greater than authigenic accumulation rates at EN433-1 and EN433-2. These differences are consistent with oxidation and loss of U from the solid phase via irrigation and/or bioturbation, which may compromise the sequestration of U in continental margin sediments that underlie bottom waters with high oxygen concentrations. Previous literature compilations that include data exclusively from locations where [O2]bw < 150 ?M suggest compelling correlations between authigenic U accumulation and organic carbon flux to sediments or organic carbon burial rate. Sediments that underlie waters with high [O2]bw have lower authigenic U accumulation rates than would be predicted from relationships developed from results that include locations where [O2]bw < 150 ?M.

publication date

  • May 2009