The impact of typhoons on sediment connectivity: lessons learnt from contaminated coastal catchments of the Fukushima Prefecture (Japan)

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Abstract

Sediment connectivity characterizes the physical transfer of sediment through different geomorphic compartments in catchments due to sediment detachment, transport and deposition. Quantifying and modelling sediment connectivity is therefore a key prerequisite to improving our understanding of the dispersion of particle-borne contaminants, especially in catchments exposed to highly erosive climates. The objective of this study is to provide novel insights into typhoon impacts on sediment connectivity from hillslopes to rivers. The dispersion of particle-bound caesium-137 (137Cs) was investigated in two coastal catchments draining the main contamination plume from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. Five sampling campaigns were carried out from November 2011 to November 2015, after each typhoon season. The spatial and temporal evolution of 137Cs contamination was investigated through the calculation of 137Cs enrichment ratios in sediment relative to nearby soils. Rainfall erosivity (EI30) associated with the main typhoons that occurred prior to each sampling campaign were computed, mapped, and finally used to improve a topographic-based index of connectivity. From 2011 to 2015, mean contamination levels in Mano and Niida catchments decreased from 11.9 kBq kg−1 to 3.3 kBq kg−1 and from 34.1 kBq kg−1 to 8.0 kBq kg−1, respectively. Regional mean EI30 ranged from 262 MJ mm ha−1 h−1 for typhoon Jelawat (in 2012) to 1695 MJ mm ha−1 h−1 for typhoon Roke (in 2011). Typhoons Roke (2011) and Etau (2015) showed the highest connectivity from contaminated sources to the rivers, and induced a significant export of sediment to the ocean. In 2013 a slight increase in 137Cs levels in river sediments occurred, likely resulting from initial decontamination works and the occurrence of two consecutive typhoons. Importantly, this research provides new insights into the connectivity of the main sources of sediments contaminated with radiocaesium in Fukushima Prefecture and their temporal evolution, which will help with ongoing decontamination efforts. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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