Towards developing sediment quality assessment guidelines for aquatic systems

an Australian perspective

A. V. Arakel*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    41 Citations (Scopus)


    Sediment at the sediment-water interface of natural and man-made waterways forms an integral part of the ecosystem because it is affected by a continuous flux of physical, chemical and biological components between the sediment, interstitial water and the overlying water column. Aquatic sediments contain records of past and present urban and rural runoff, chemical discharges and spills. In recent years sediment quality has received increasing attention following identification of the role of sediment as both a sink for pollutants and as a contaminant source with potential impacts on the quality of receiving waters. Research has indicated that the processes leading to remobilization of contaminated sediments in upstream reaches of a waterway may, through time, exert a significant influence on water quality in the downstream reaches. This, together with the cumulative effects due to contaminant input from point and non-point source discharges, have dramatic effects on water quality and thus on ecosystem structure and functioning. The problems associated with elevated concentrations of many hazardous organic and inorganic compounds have resulted in the establishment of aquatic sediment quality criteria and management guidelines in many overseas countries, with the objectives being the reduction and elimination of adverse environmental effects and human health risks associated with contaminated sediments. Whereas more than 70% of the Australian population is clustered around the coastal waterways, little is known about the role of sediments as a repository of environmental pollutants and/or as a source of adverse impacts on water quality and the health of our rivers. The paucity of knowledge on the quality of aquatic sediment highlights the need for the development of coherent guidelines for sediment quality assessment and management of contaminated sites, which are consistent with Australian environmental conditions and land use features. A comparative evaluation of sediment quality information from eight coastal rivers along the east coast of Australia, presented in this paper, indicates the possibility for establishing a framework for regional sediment quality assessment. This may be achievable by using textural and compositional attributes of bottom sediments in depositional areas to develop databases on the loading and concentration trends of nutrients and contaminants. Regional variability in sediment quality determinants are shown to reflect the influence of catchment hydrology, lithology and land use on nutrient and contaminant concentration trends. Locally, the loading and partitioning behaviour of sediment-bound contaminants is largely controlled by the nature and the extent of interactions occurring at the sediment-water interface within individual depositional units. The concept of ‘Sediment Effect Zone’ is introduced to provide a compartmental approach to the characterization of aquatic sediments and depositional environments in different hydrologic zones. This approach offers a rational basis for follow-up chemical and biological assessments to establish sediment quality standards and management guidelines. Because of the complex influences of environmental, methodological and statistical factors on defining the sediment variability, the need for implementing proper quality control measures from early stages of design of a sediment quality assessment program is highlighted.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)335-369
    Number of pages35
    JournalAustralian Journal of Earth Sciences
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1995


    • Aquatic sediments
    • Australia
    • Nutrients
    • Rivers
    • Sediment contaminants
    • Sediment quality assessment
    • Trace metals

    Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Towards developing sediment quality assessment guidelines for aquatic systems: an Australian perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this