Assessment of lead and beryllium sorption to exposed stream channel sediment under varying freshwater channel conditions

  • Ethan D. PawlowskiEmail author
  • Diana L. Karwan
Sediment Fingerprinting in the Critical Zone



Beryllium (Be) and lead (Pb) sorption is important to the utility of the radioisotopes of these elements for sediment fingerprinting. This paper examines the sorption of Be and Pb exposed to fluvial sediment under varying chemical conditions representative of freshwater streams draining two distinct Critical Zone environments in the eastern United States: the mid-Atlantic piedmont and heavily glaciated Great Lakes region.

Materials and methods

Batch experiments were completed using well-characterized in-stream deposit sediments collected from these two systems and varying solutions to reflect background and elevated levels of iron oxide in the form of goethite across times ranging from 0.25 to 360 h. The mid-Atlantic piedmont sediment had further treatments testing dissolved organic carbon and increased sediment to solution ratio effects on Pb and Be sorption.

Results and discussion

Beryllium partition coefficients (Kd) ranged from a log Kd of 1.46 to 3.48 L kg−1 and Pb ranged from 0 to 5.03 L kg−1 across all treatments displaying several noticeable patterns. Two-stage sorption was observed such that sorption increased over time across all treatments and substrates. Goethite additions either enhanced or reduced sorption relative to the unaltered treatment depending on the original sediment and mixing time. Lead sorption with the addition of 100 mg of goethite increased during shorter mixing times before being surpassed by the unaltered, or base, treatment at longer mixing times for both the mid-Atlantic piedmont and glaciated Great Lakes sediment. Beryllium sorption was increased with the mid-Atlantic piedmont sediment whereas it was primarily decreased with the glaciated Great Lakes sediment. The 1 mg of goethite generally showed equal to or slightly enhanced sorption relative to the base setup of both Pb and Be with the exception of Pb sorption to the Great Lakes sediment. The highest DOC concentration tested of 11.86 mg L−1 retained a greater amount of Be and Pb in solution compared to other treatments after 360 h. Increasing the sediment to solution ratio showed decreased partition coefficients across all analogous times for Be compared to the base treatment whereas Pb sorption surpassed the unaltered treatment after 24 h.


These results suggest that fluvial sediment mineralogy, organic matter concentration, and biogeochemical cycling of common stream chemical constituents may play a role in the mobilization or retention of these two trace metals and alter their utility for sediment fingerprinting.


Beryllium Lead Sediment Sorption 



We gratefully acknowledge the field and laboratory assistance that brought this work to fruition in particular from Dr. Stephen Sebestyen, Dr. Kyungsoo Yoo, Dr. Katherine Skalak, Adam Benthem, Dr. James Pizzuto, and many others.

Funding information

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation in grant EAR 1424147, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, and by the University of Minnesota. Parts of this work were carried out in the Characterization Facility, University of Minnesota, which receives partial support from NSF through the MRSEC program. ICP-MS measurements were performed at the Yale Analytical and Stable Isotope Center (YASIC), a Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS) research center.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

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