The combination of flood prevention and tidal marsh restoration will be implemented on a large scale in the Schelde estuary (Belgium). Densely populated and industrialized, this estuary was found to be severely contaminated with trace metals. In this study we evaluated the effect of tidal restoration on sediment trace metal concentrations. To asses historical contamination of embanked-, a restored- and natural tidal areas, deep sediment cores were sampled while the evolution of metal concentrations was determined by means of superficial samples taken during 10 sampling campaigns spread over the first 3 years of the restoration project. Metal concentrations in the natural tidal marsh reflected the estuaries' contamination history. Fertilization by irrigation caused high metal concentrations in superficial soil layers of some embanked areas. However, reintroduction of the tide resulted in deposition of a new sediment layer with lower metal concentrations, comparable to the natural tidal marsh. Despite diagenetic mobility of manganese no diagenetic movements of the trace metals were observed during these first three years. Removal of metals from the estuary and burial of contaminated sediments in the restored site emphasize the potential of these restoration projects to decrease metal contamination risks. However, more research under field conditions on the effects of changes in land use and inundation related changes in metal bioavailability is needed to draw clear conclusions on the environmental consequences.
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