Attenuation of rare earth elements in a boreal estuary

Mats E. Åström*, Peter Österholm, Jon Petter Gustafsson, Miriam Nystrand, Pasi Peltola, Linda Nordmyr, Anton Boman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


This study focuses on attenuation of rare earth elements (REE) when a boreal creek, acidified and loaded with REE and other metals as a result of wetland drainage, empties into a brackish-water estuary (salinity < 6‰). Surface water was collected in a transect from the creek mouth to the outer estuary, and settling (particulate) material in sediment traps moored at selected locations in the estuary. Ultrafiltration, high-resolution ICP-MS and modeling were applied on the waters, and a variety of chemical reagents were used to extract metals from the settling material. Aluminium, Fe and REE transported by the acidic creek were extensively removed in the inner/central estuary where the acidic water was neutralised, whereas Mn was relatively persistent in solution and thus redistributed to particles and deposited further down the estuary. The REE removal was caused by several contemporary mechanisms: co-precipitation with oxyhydroxides (mainly Al but also Fe), complexation with flocculating humic substances and sorption to suspended particles. Down estuary the dissolved REE pool, remaining after removal, was fractionated: the <1. kDa pool became depleted in the middle REE and the colloidal (0.45 μm-1. kDa) pool depleted in the middle and heavy REE. This fractionation was controlled by the removal process, such that those REE with highest affinity for the settling particles became most depleted in the remaining dissolved pool. Modeling, based on Visual MINTEQ version 3.0 and the Stockholm Humic Model after revision and updating, predicted that the dissolved (<0.45 μm) REE pool in the estuary is bound almost entirely to humic substances. Acid sulphate soils, the source of the REE and other metals in the creek water, are widespread on coastal plains worldwide and therefore the REE attenuation patterns and mechanisms identified in the studied estuary are relevant for recognition of similar geochemical processes and conditions in a variety of coastal locations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-119
Number of pages15
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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