Spatiotemporal variation of rare earth elements from river to reef continuum aids monitoring of terrigenous sources in the Great Barrier Reef

Saha, Narottam, Webb, Gregory E., Zhao, Jian-Xin, Lewis, Stephen E., Nguyen, Ai Duc, and Feng, Yuexing (2021) Spatiotemporal variation of rare earth elements from river to reef continuum aids monitoring of terrigenous sources in the Great Barrier Reef. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 299. pp. 85-112.

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Abstract

Degradation of inshore water quality associated with catchment modification is threatening global coral reef ecosystems. Coral trace element proxies are widely applied to document the magnitude and timing of historical changes in river runoff and other disturbances. However, conflicting interpretations of commonly used coral proxies (Ba/Ca, Y/Ca and Mn/Ca) complicate their application for examining historical changes in coastal water quality. The exploration of other coral trace element proxies (such as rare earth elements, REE) is limited in space and time, and to few coral genera. This study examined the dynamics of dissolved REE and yttrium (REEY) in the Fitzroy and Burdekin river tributaries and estuaries, Queensland, Australia. In addition, monthly-resolution long-term temporal records of Ba/Ca, Mn/Ca, Y/Ca and REEY proxies were investigated in two Porites and one Cyphastrea coral colonies from the central and southern Great Barrier Reef in order to test the reliability of these proxies to record the variability of river runoff and local anthropogenic disturbances. The results showed large scale removal of REEY (55–86%) in the low salinity mixing zones of both estuaries with significant fractionation of Nd-Yb and Y-Ho, confirming the ability of coral REEY to act as a terrestrial runoff proxy. Coralline Ba/Ca, Y/Ca and Mn/Ca records generally lack coherence with proximal discharge. However, temporal fluctuations of REEY proxies, irrespective of geographic location and coral genus, showed consistent behaviour relative to regional discharge with progressive increase of total REE/Ca and shale normalized Nd/Yb and decrease of Y/Ho during high-flow summer periods. The shifting baselines of REEY proxies in Cyphastrea grown in the turbid water setting of Rat Island effectively captured the timing of Gladstone Port dredging activities. Our findings suggest that shale normalized coral REEY distributions outperformed other commonly used trace element proxies and are robust indicators of changing inshore water quality. Longer-term records of coral REEY, even covering the period before European settlement from the 1850s, may provide a means to identify shifting baselines and evaluate and quantify the impacts of catchment alteration on coastal water quality and specific coral reef communities.

Item ID: 73362
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1872-9533
Keywords: Coral proxy; Rare earth element; Geochemistry; Great Barrier Reef; Water quality; Dredging; Shifting baseline
Copyright Information: © 2021 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2022 22:17
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410402 Environmental assessment and monitoring @ 100%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1802 Coastal and estuarine systems and management > 180201 Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems @ 100%
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