Geochemical Discrimination of Bulk Organic Matter in Surface Sediments of the Cross River Estuary System and Adjacent Shelf, South East Nigeria (West Africa)

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Aug 15;678:351-368. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.04.422. Epub 2019 Apr 30.


Knowledge of the sources, distribution and fate of organic matter (OM) in estuarine and adjacent shelf sediments are important for the understanding of the global biogeochemical cycles. Bulk organic carbon (C-org), total nitrogen (TN), biogenic silica (BSi), stable carbon (δ13C-org) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes, and sediment grain sizes were measured to study the spatial distributions and sources of sediment OM in the Cross River estuary system (CRES) and adjacent shelf. Surface sediments in the CRES were composed of clayey silt and sandy silt, while the adjacent shelf sediments were mainly silty sand. The range of the studied parameters was -28.79‰ to -22.20‰ for δ13C-org, -1.32‰-6.31‰ for δ15N, 6.7-29.2 for C-org/N ratios, 0.08%-0.33% for TN, 0.24‰-0.74‰ for BSi, and 0.47%-5.28% for C-org, and their spatial distributions showed a general decreasing trend in both the terrestrial and estuarine OM from the riverine regions to the adjacent shelf. Based on the three-end-member mixing model using the δ13C and δ15N isotopic values, ~58.01 ± 15.32% of sediment OM are derived from terrestrial sources dominated by C3 vascular plants, while ~26.34 ± 9.71% are attributed to estuarine sources dominated by aquatic macrophytes, and ~15.65 ± 12.37% for marine plankton source. Other sources of OM identified included soils underlain C3 vascular plants and agricultural farms enriched with N, sewage, and petroleum hydrocarbons. The relationship between C-org vs. BSi, and the atomic BSi/Corg ratios suggested that diatoms also play an important role in OM sequestration in surface sediments of the CRES and adjacent shelf. The correlations of the δ13C-org and δ15N isotopic values vs. C-org/N ratios resulted in scatter plots, indicating that the distributions of sediment OM in the CRES and adjacent shelf are influenced by post depositional processes, fixed inorganic N adsorbed on fine-grained sediments, microbial degradation, as well as sediment grain size.

Keywords: Biogenic silica; Carbon and nitrogen isotopes; Cross River estuary system; Sources of sedimentary organic matter.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Estuaries
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis*
  • Nigeria
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis
  • Silicon Dioxide / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Nitrogen-15
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Carbon
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Carbon-13
  • Nitrogen