The Key Laboratory of Mountain Surface Processes and Ecological Regulation, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu 610041, China. Electronic address: [Email]
The contamination of heavy metals in sediments of the Three Gorges Reservoir (TGR) is increasingly concerned as a major issue for water quality since the full impoundment. In this study, the sediment profiles in the riparian and submerged areas from Fuling to Zigui in the middle-low TGR mainstream were collected to investigate the stratified distribution of heavy metals (Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn) and assess their contamination and potential eco-risk. The results showed that the concentrations of these metals in the riparian sediments did not present a marked spatial trend except the concentrations of Cd that increased towards the dam. However, the metal concentrations (except Cd) in the submerged sediments were generally higher near the dam. The concentrations of heavy metals in the riparian sediments did not show marked vertical variation, while in the submerged sediments they fluctuated dramatically with depth, indicating the metal accumulation processes in last few years. Sediment grain sizes as an indicator of hydrodynamic regimes dominated the vertical distribution of heavy metals over organic matters and Fe/Mn oxide/hydroxides. The sediments from both riparian and submerged areas of the TGR were contaminated by anthropogenic metals of Cd, Cu and Pb that were mainly from the ore mining, fossil fuel combustion, agricultural pollution and atmospheric deposition. Cadmium was a major metal pollutant in the sediments with a high contamination and potential eco-risk level. The results of this study indicate that the sorting of sediments with the anti-seasonal flow regulation determines the spatial and temporal distribution of heavy metal contamination in the sediments, and the impoundment stages of the TGR in history regulate the accumulation processes of the metals.