Sedimentation and associated trace metal enrichment in the riparian zone of the Three Gorges Reservoir, China

Qiang Tang, Yuhai Bao, Xiubin He, Huaidong Zhou, Zhijing Cao, Peng Gao, Ronghua Zhong, Yunhua Hu, Xinbao Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Impoundment of the Three Gorges Reservoir has created an artificial riparian zone with a vertical height of 30m and a total area of 349km2, which has been subjected to seasonal inundation and exposure due to regular reservoir impoundment and the occurrence of natural floods. The significant alteration of hydrologic regime has caused numerous environmental changes. The present study investigated the magnitude and spatial pattern of sedimentation and metal enrichment in a typical section of the riparian zone, composed of bench terraces with previous agricultural land uses, and explored their links to the changed hydrologic regime. In particular, we measured the total sediment depths and collected surface riparian sediments and down-profile sectioned riparian soils (at 5cm intervals) for trace metal determination. Our analysis showed that the annual average sedimentation rates varied from 0.5 to 10cm·yr-1 and they decreased significantly with increasing elevation. This lateral distribution was principally attributed to seasonal variations in water levels and suspended sediment concentrations. Enriched concentrations of trace metals were found both in the riparian sediments and soils, but they were generally higher in the riparian sediments than in riparian soils and followed a similar lateral decreasing trend. Metal contamination assessment showed that the riparian sediments were slightly contaminated by Ni, Zn, and Pb, moderately contaminated by Cu, and moderately to strongly contaminated by Cd; while riparian soils were slightly contaminated by As, and moderately contaminated by Cd. Trace metal enrichment in the riparian sediments may be attributed to external input of contaminated sediments produced from upstream anthropogenic sources and chemical adsorption from dissolved fractions during pure sediment mobilization and after sink for a prolonged flooding period due to reservoir impoundment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-266
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2014


  • Diffuse contaminant
  • Riparian zone
  • Sedimentation
  • Three Gorges Reservoir
  • Trace metal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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