28 Mar 2023
 | 28 Mar 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Estuarine flocculation dynamics of organic carbon and metals from boreal acid sulphate soils

Joonas Virtasalo, Peter Österholm, and Eero Asmala

Abstract. Flocculation of riverine dissolved organic matter to the particulate form in estuaries is an important mechanism for capturing dissolved metals to newly formed organic particles, regulating the metal transport to the sea. The process is particularly relevant for rivers draining boreal acid sulphate soils of western Finland, which are known to deliver large amounts of trace metals with detrimental environmental consequences to the recipient estuaries in the eastern Gulf of Bothnia, northern Baltic Sea. This is the first study to investigate dissolved metal (Al, Fe, Mn, Co and Cu) association with flocculating organic particles in the laboratory, by mixing of acidic metal-rich water from acid sulphate soil-impacted rivers and particle-free artificial seawater. Water samples were collected in April 2021 from the Laihianjoki and Sulvanjoki rivers in western Finland. Experiments with an in situ laser diffraction-based particle size distribution sensor and a multiparameter water quality sonde were run to continuously monitor the development of suspended particle pool over the salinity gradient from 0 to 6, corresponding the salinity range observed in these estuarine systems. Flocculator experiments with discrete salinity treatments were carried out to investigate metal behaviour with the collection of flocculated material on glassfibre filters. Filtrate was analysed for coloured dissolved organic matter absorbance and fluorescence for the characterization of potential changes in the organic matter pool during the flocculation process. Retentate on the filter was subjected to persulfate digestion of organic particles and metal oxyhydroxides (pH <2.3), and the digestion supernatants were analysed for metal concentrations. The laboratory experiments showed strong transfer of Al and Fe already at salinity 0–2 to newly formed organic-dominated flocs that were generally larger than 80 µm. Very strong coupling between the decrease in humic-like fluorescence and the increase in organic-bound Al demonstrated that Al transfer to the flocs was stronger than that of Fe. The flocs in the suspended particle pool were complemented by a smaller population of Al and Fe oxyhydroxide-dominated flocculi (median size 11 µm) after pH exceeded ca. 5.5. Cobalt and Mn transfer to the particle pool was weak, although some transfer to Mn oxyhydroxides as well as Co association with the flocs took place. Up to 50 % of Cu was found to be bound to humic substances in the flocs in the river waters and this proportion did not significantly change during mixing with seawater. The findings of this study demonstrate that salinity and pH are important independent but connected controls of the flocculation behavior of dissolved metals from boreal acid sulphate soils and the seaward transport and environmental consequences of the metals in the marine environment.

Joonas Virtasalo et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2023-53', Anonymous Referee #1, 19 Apr 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Joonas Virtasalo, 29 Apr 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2023-53', Anonymous Referee #2, 20 Apr 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Joonas Virtasalo, 29 Apr 2023

Joonas Virtasalo et al.

Joonas Virtasalo et al.


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Short summary
We mixed acidic metal-rich river water from acid sulphate soils and seawater in the laboratory to study the flocculation of dissolved metals and organic matter in estuaries. Al and Fe flocculated already at salinity 0–2 to large organic flocs (>80 µm size). Precipitation of Al and Fe hydroxide flocculi (median size 11 µm) began when pH exceeded ca. 5.5. Mn transferred weakly to Mn hydroxides and Co to the flocs. Up to 50 % of Cu was associated with the flocs irrespective of seawater mixing.