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Seasonal dynamics of dissolved trace metals (Cd, Co, Cu, Ni and Zn) and its relationship with redox conditions and phytoplankton activity has been studied in the Scheldt estuary, during nine surveys carried out between May 1995 and June 1996. Seasonal profiles of dissolved trace metals and general estuarine water quality variables are compared, to identify the geochemical and biological processes responsible for the observed trace metal distributions. In keeping with previous studies, the behavior of dissolved Cd, Cu, and Zn can be explained by the presence of anoxic headwaters and the restoration of dissolved oxygen within the estuary. In the river water, the concentration of dissolved Cu and Zn is generally low, except during winter when dissolved oxygen is present in the water column, although highly undersaturated. Mobilization of particle-bound Cd, Cu, and Zn occurs as dissolved oxygen increases with increasing salinity, possibly because of oxidation of metal sulfides in the suspended matter. The geochemistry of dissolved Co is also related to the redox conditions but in an opposite way. Dissolved Co is mobilized in the anoxic upper estuary, along with the reduction in Mn (hydro) oxides, and subsequently coprecipitated with Mn (hydro) oxides when dissolved oxygen is restored. Conservative behavior is observed for dissolved Ni within the estuary. In the middle estuary, Cd and Zn are readsorbed during phytoplankton blooms, as suggested by the low concentrations of these metals during the most productive periods in spring and early summer. The removal may be caused by direct biological uptake and/or increased adsorption to suspended matter because of the pH increase associated with algae blooms. In the lower estuary, chemical gradients are much weaker and dilution with seawater is the dominant process.
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