Ocean dynamic processes causing spatially heterogeneous distribution of sedimentary caesium-137 massively released from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
- Center for Regional Environmental Research, National Institute for Environmental Studies, Tsukuba, Japan
Abstract. Massive amounts of anthropogenic radiocaesium 137Cs that were released into the environment by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011 are widely known to have extensively migrated to Pacific Ocean sediment off of eastern Japan. Several recent reports have stated that the sedimentary 137Cs is now stable with a remarkably heterogeneous distribution. The present study elucidates ocean dynamic processes causing this heterogeneous sedimentary 137Cs distribution in and around the shelf off Fukushima and adjacent prefectures. We performed a numerical simulation of oceanic 137Cs behaviour for about 10 months after the accident, using a comprehensive dynamic model involving advection–diffusion transport in seawater, adsorption and desorption to and from particulate matter, sedimentation and suspension on and from the bottom, and vertical diffusion transport in the sediment. A notable simulated result was that the sedimentary 137Cs significantly accumulated in a swath just offshore of the shelf break (along the 50–100 m isobath) as in recent observations, although the seabed in the entire simulation domain was assumed to have ideal properties such as identical bulk density, uniform porosity, and aggregation of particles with a single grain diameter. This result indicated that the heterogeneous sedimentary 137Cs distribution was not necessarily a result of the spatial distribution of 137Cs sediment adsorptivity. The present simulation suggests that the shape of the swath is mainly associated with spatiotemporal variation between bottom shear stress in the shallow shelf (< 50 m depths) and that offshore of the shelf break. In a large part of the shallow shelf, the simulation indicated that strong bottom friction suspending particulate matter from the seabed frequently occurred via a periodic spring tide about every 2 weeks and via occasional strong wind. The sedimentary 137Cs thereby could hardly stay on the surface of the seabed with the result that the simulated sediment-surface 137Cs activity tended to decrease steadily for a long term after the initial 137Cs migration. By contrast, in the offshore region, neither the spring tide nor the strong wind caused bottom disturbance. Hence, the particulate matter incorporated with 137Cs, which was horizontally transported from the adjacent shallow shelf, readily settled and remained on the surface of the sediment just offshore of the shelf break.