Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

The relationship between sediment and water quality, and riverine sediment loads in the wave-dominated estuaries of south-west Western Australia

L. C. Radke A F , I. P. Prosser B , M. Robb C , B. Brooke A , D. Fredericks A , G. B. Douglas D and J. Skemstad E

A Geoscience Australia, GPO Box 378, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

B CSIRO Land and Water, GPO Box 1666, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C Waters and Rivers Commission, PO Box 6740, East Perth, Western Australia.

D CSIRO Land and Water, Centre for Environment and Life Sciences, Private Bag Floreat, WA 6014, Australia.

E CSIRO Land and Water, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 55(6) 581-596
Submitted: 10 March 2004  Accepted: 20 May 2004   Published: 14 September 2004


We examine surface sediment and water column total nutrient and chlorophyll a concentrations for 12 estuaries with average water depths <4 m, and calculated sediment loads ranging from 0.2 to 10.8 kg m-2 year-1. Sediment total nitrogen, phosphorus and organic carbon concentrations vary inversely with sediment loads due to: (i) the influx of more mineral-rich sediment into the estuaries; and (ii) increasing sediment sulfidation. Sediment total organic carbon (TOC) : total sulfur (TS) and TS : Fe(II) ratios correlated to sediment loads because enhanced sedimentation increases burial, hence the importance of sulfate reduction in organic matter degradation. Curvilinear relationships were found between a weathering index and organic matter δ13C in sediment, and sediment load. The rising phase of the curve (increasing weathering, lighter isotopic values) at low to intermediate loads relates to soil erosion, whereas regolith or bedrock erosion probably explains the declining phase of the curve (decreasing weathering, heavier isotopic values) at higher sediment loads. The pattern of change for water column total nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) with sediment loads is similar to that of the weathering index. Most water quality problems occur in association with soil erosion, and at sediment loads that are intermediate for the estuaries studied. Limited evidence is presented that flushing can moderate the impact of sediment loads upon the estuaries.

Extra keywords: Australian National Land and Water Resources Audit, chlorophyll a, gully erosion, harmful algal blooms, pyrite, riverbank erosion.


Abernethy B. Rutherfurd I. D. 2000 The effect of riparian tree roots on the mass-stability of riverbanks. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 25 921 937 doi:10.1002/1096-9837(200008)25:9<921::AID-ESP93>3.0.CO;2-7

Anand R. R. Paine M. 2002 Regolith geology of the Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia: implications for exploration. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 49 3 162 doi:10.1046/J.1440-0952.2002.00912.X

Anderson D. M. Gilbert P. M. Burkholder J. M. 2002 Harmful algal blooms and eutrophication: Nutrient sources, competition, and consequences. Estuaries 25 704 726

ANZECC/ARMCANZ 2000 ‘Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality.’ Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council Canberra, Australia.

Berner R. A. 1984 Sedimentary pyrite formation: An update. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 48 605 615 doi:10.1016/0016-7037(84)90089-9

Birch G. F. Eyre B. Taylor S. E. 1999 a The distribution of nutrients in bottom sediments of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 38 1247 1251 doi:10.1016/S0025-326X(99)00184-8

Birch G. F. Eyre B. Taylor S. E. 1999b The use of sediments to assess environmental impact on a large coastal catchment – the Hawkesbury River system. AGSO Journal of Australian Geology & Geophysics 17 175 191

Bramley R. G. Roth C. H. 2002 Land-use effects on water quality in an intensively managed catchment in the Australian humid tropics. Marine and Freshwater Research 53 931 940 doi:10.1071/MF01242

Brzezinski M. A. 1985 The Si:C:N ratio of marine diatoms: Interspecific variability and the effect of some environmental variables. Journal of Phycology 21 347 357

Chenhall B. E. Yassini I. Depers A. M. Caitchen G. Jones B. G. Batley G. E. Ohmsen G. S. 1995 Anthropogenic marker evidence for accelerated sedimentation in Lake Illawarra, New South Wales, Australia. Environmental Geology 26 124 135

Donnelly T. H. Ford P. W. McGregor D. Allen D. 1999 Anthropogenic changes to a billabong in New South Wales. 1. Lagoon evolution and phosphorus dynamics. Marine and Freshwater Research 50 689 698

Douglas G. B. Palmer M. J. Caitcheon G. 2003 The provenance of sediments in Moreton Bay, Australia: A synthesis of major, trace element and Sr-Nd-Pb isotopic geochemistry, modelling and landscape analysis. Hydrobiologia 494 145 152 doi:10.1023/A:1025454013160

Duarte C. M. 1995 Submerged aquatic vegetation in relation to different nutrient regimes. Ophelia 41 87 112

Eyre B. 1998 Transport, retention and transformation of material in Australian estuaries. Estuaries 21 540 551

Gale S. J. Haworth R. J. Pisanu P. C. 1995 The 210Pb chronology of late Holocene deposition in an eastern Australian lake basin. Quaternary Science Reviews 14 395 408 doi:10.1016/0277-3791(95)00033-X

Gerritse R. G. 1999 Sulphur, organic carbon and iron relationships in estuarine and freshwater sediments: effects of sedimentation rate. Applied Geochemistry 14 41 52 doi:10.1016/S0883-2927(98)00041-9

Hamilton D. P. Turner J. V. 2001 Integrating research and management for an urban estuarine system: the Swan-Canning Estuary, Western Australia. Hydrological Processes 15 2383 2385 doi:10.1002/HYP.299

Harnett H. E. Keil R. G. Hedges J. I. Devol A. 1998 Influence of oxygen exposure time on organic carbon preservation in continental margin sediments. Nature 391 572 574 doi:10.1038/35351

Harris G. P. 2001 Biogeochemistry of nitrogen and phosphorus in Australian catchments, rivers and estuaries: effects of land use and flow regulation and comparisons with global patterns. Marine and Freshwater Research 52 139 149 doi:10.1071/MF00031

Harris P. T. Heap A. D. Bryce S. M. Porter-Smith R. Ryan D. A. Heggie D. T. 2002 Classification of Australian Coastal depositional environments based upon a quantitative analysis of wave, tidal and fluvial power. Journal of Sedimentary Research 72 858 870

He Q. Walling D. E. 1996 Interpreting particle size effects in the adsorption of 137Cs and unsupported 210Pb by mineral soils and sediments. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 30 117 137 doi:10.1016/0265-931X(96)89275-7

Heap A. Bryce S. Ryan D. Radke L. Smith C. Smith R. Harris P. Heggie D. 2001 ‘Australian Estuaries & Coastal Waterways: A Geoscience Perspective for Improved and Integrated Resource Management.’ A Report to the National Land and Water Resource Audit; Theme 7 Ecosystem Health, AGSO Record 2001/07. Australian Government Publishing Service Canberra, Australia.

Hedges J. I. Keil R. G. 1995 Sedimentary organic matter preservation: an assessment and speculative synthesis. Marine Chemistry 49 81 115

Heggie D. T. Skyring G. W. 1999 Flushing of Australian estuaries, coastal lakes and embayments: an overview with biogeochemical commentary. AGSO Journal of Australian Geology & Geophysics 17 211 225

Hodgkin E. P. 1998 The future of the estuaries of south-western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 81 225 228

Hodgkin E. Clark R. 1987 ‘Estuaries and Coastal Lagoons of South Western Australia. Estuarine Studies Series.’ Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Perth, Australia.

Hodgkin E. Clark R. 1988a ‘Nornalup and Walepole Inlets and the Estuaries of the Deep and Franklin Rivers.’ Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Perth, Australia.

Hodgkin E. Clark R. 1988b ‘Wilson Inlet, Irwin Inlet and Parry Inlet.’ Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Perth, Australia.

Hodgkin E. Clark R. 1989 ‘Stokes Inlet and other Estuaries of the Shire of Esperance.’ Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Perth, Australia.

Hodgkin E. Clark R. 1990 a ‘Estuaries of the Shire of Ravensthorpe and the Fitzgerald River National Park.’ Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Perth, Australia.

Hodgkin E. Clark R. 1990 b ‘Estuaries of the Shire of Albany.’ Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Perth, Australia.

Hodgkin E. P. Hesp P. 1998 Estuaries to salt lakes: Holocene transformation of the estuarine ecosystems of south-western Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 49 183 201

Johannes R. E. Pearce A. F. Wiebe W. J. Crossland C. J. Rimmer D. W. Smith D. F. Manning C. 1994 Nutrient characteristics of well-mixed coastal waters off Perth, Western Australia. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 39 273 285 doi:10.1006/ECSS.1994.1064

Kalnejais L. , McMahon K. , and Robb M. (1999). Swan-Canning Estuary, Western Australia. In ‘Australasian Estuarine Systems: Carbon, Nitrogen and Phosphorus Fluxes’. LOICZ Reports and Studies No. 12. (Eds S. V. Smith and C. J. Crossland.) pp. 74–90. (LOICZ IPO: Texel, The Netherlands.)

Lovely D. R. 1991 Dissimilatroy Fe(III) and Mn(IV) Reduction. Microbiological Reviews 55 259 287

McKee L. J. Eyre B. D. Hossain S. Pepperell P. 2001 Influence of climate, geology and humans on spatial and temporal nutrient geochemistry in the subtropical Richmond River catchment, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 52 235 248 doi:10.1071/MF99025

Merry R. H. Spouncer L. R. 1988 The measurement of carbon in soils using a microprocessor-controlled resistance furnace. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 19 707 720

Meyers P. A. 1997 Organic geochemical proxies of paleoceanographic, paleolimnologic, and paleoclimatic processes. Organic Geochemistry 27 213 250 doi:10.1016/S0146-6380(97)00049-1

McComb A. J. Lukatelich R. J. 1995 The Peel-Harvey estuarine system, Western Australia. ‘Eutrophic Shallow Estuaries and Lagoons’. McComb. A. J. 5 17 CRC Press Boca Raton, FL, USA.

McComb A. J. 1995 Introduction. ‘Eutrophic Shallow Estuaries and Lagoons’. McComb. A. J. 1 4 CRC Press Boca Raton, FL, USA.

McComb A. J. Qui S. Lukatelich R. J. McAuliffe T. F. 1998 Spatial and temporal heterogeneity of sediment phosphorus in the Peel-Harvey estuarine system. Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science 47 561 577 doi:10.1006/ECSS.1998.0389

McLoughlin L. C. 2000 Shaping Sydney Harbour: sedimentation, dredging and reclaimation 1788 - 1990s. The Australian Geographer 31 183 208

Neil D. T. 1998 Moreton Bay and its catchment: seascape and landscape, development and degradation. ‘Moreton Bay and Catchment’. Tibbetts I. R. Hall N. J. Dennison W. C. 3 54 School of Marine Science, University of Queensland St Lucia, Australia.

Nesbitt H. W. Young G. M. 1984 Prediction of some weathering trends of plutonic and volcanic rocks based on thermodynamic and kinetic considerations. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 48 1523 1534 doi:10.1016/0016-7037(84)90408-3

Norrish K. Hutton J. T. 1969 An accurate X-Ray spectrographic method for the analysis of a wide range of geological samples. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 33 431 453 doi:10.1016/0016-7037(69)90126-4

Olley J. M. Murray A. S. Mackenzie D. M. Edwards K. 1993 Identifying sediment sources in a gullied catchment using natural and anthropogenic radioactivity. Water Resources Research 29 1037 1043 doi:10.1029/92WR02710

Pennifold M. Davis J. 2001 Macrofauna and nutrient cycling in the Swan River Estuary, Western Australia: experimental results. Hydrological Processes 15 2537 2553 doi:10.1002/HYP.294

Prosser I. P. Slade C. J. 1994 Gully formation and the role of valley-floor vegetation, southeastern Australia. Geology 22 1127 1130 doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1994)022<1127:GFATRO>2.3.CO;2

Prosser I. P. Winchester S. J. 1996 History and processes of gully initiation and development in Australia. Zeitschrift fur Geomorphologie Suppl. Bd 105 91 109

Prosser I. Rustomji P. Young B. Moran C. Hughes A. 2001 ‘Constructing river basin sediment budgets for the National Land and Water Resources Audit.’ Technical Report 15/01. CSIRO Land and Water Canberra, Australia.

Roden E.E. Edmonds J.W. 1997 Phosphate mobilization in iron-rich anaerobic sediments: microbial Fe(III) oxide reduction versus iron-sulfide formation. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 139 347

Roy P. S. Williams R. J. Jones A. R. Yassini R. Gibbs P. J. Coates B. West R. J. Scanes P. R. Hudson J. P. Nichol S. 2001 Structure and function of southeastern Australian Estuaries. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 53 351 384

Ruan H. D. Gilkes R. J. 2000 Phosphorus accumulation in farm ponds and dams in southwestern Australia. Journal of Environmental Quality 29 1875 1881

Schoonen A. A. A. Barnes H. L. 1991 Reactions forming pyrite and marcasite from solutions II. Via FeS precursors below 100°C. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 55 1505 1514 doi:10.1016/0016-7037(91)90123-M

Shapiro L. , and Brannock W. W. (1962). ‘Rapid Analysis of Silicate, Carbonate and Phosphate Rocks. USGS Bulletin 1144-A.’ (United States Geological Survey: Reston, VA, USA)

Singh B. Gilkes R. J. 1991 Phosphorus sorption in relation to soil properties for the major soil types of south-western Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research 29 603 618

Sloss C. (2001). ‘Holocene Stratigraphic Evolution and Recent Sedimentological Trends, Lake Illawarra, NSW.’ BSc Honours Thesis (University of Wollongong: Wollongong, Australia.)

Thornton J. A. McComb A. J. Ryding S.-O. 1995 The role of sediments. ‘Eutrophic Shallow Estuaries and Lagoons’. McComb. A. J. 205 223 CRC Press Boca Raton, Florida, USA.

Wallbrink P. J. Olley J. M. Murray A. S. Olive L. J. 1998 Determining sediment sources and transit times of suspended sediment in the Murrumbidgee River, NSW, Australia using fallout 137Cs and 210Pb. Water Resources Research 34 879 887 doi:10.1029/97WR03471

Wasson R. J. Olive L. J. Rosewell C. J. 1996 Rates of erosion and sediment transport in Australia. International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication 236 139 148

Webster I. T. Harris G. P. 2004 Anthropogenic impacts on the ecosystems of coastal lagoons - modelling fundamental biogeochemical processes and management implications. Marine and Freshwater Research 55 67 78 doi:10.1071/MF03068

Export Citation