• Chronostratigraphy;
  • Legacy pollution;
  • Benthic bioavailability;
  • Partitioning;
  • Natural recovery


Contaminant levels in urban harbor sediments vary with contaminant emission levels, sedimentation rates, and sediment resuspension processes such as propeller wash. Levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are decreasing in many urban harbors, as heavily contaminated sediments that accumulated during past decades are being buried by less-contaminated sediments. However, PAHs and PCBs remain a concern in areas where burial is slow or resuspension processes re-expose heavily contaminated older layers. Chronostratigraphic sediment core studies typically characterize contaminant level histories by using total sediment concentrations, Csed, and do not determine the freely dissolved porewater concentrations, Cpw, which provide a better measure of bioavailability. Here both Csed and Cpw profiles were established for PAHs and PCBs in dated sediment cores from diverse areas of Oslo Harbor, Norway. Sediment–porewater partitioning profiles were established alongside profiles of various sorbing carbonaceous phases, including total organic carbon (TOC), black carbon, and diverse carbonaceous geosorbents identified by petrographic analysis. Stratigraphic trends in carbonaceous phases and Csed could be associated with different industrial epochs: hydropower (post-1960, approximately), manufactured gas (∼1925–1960), coal (∼1910–1925), and early industry (∼1860–1910). Partitioning was highly variable and correlated best with the TOC. Hydropower-epoch sediments exhibit decreasing Csed with time and a relatively strong sorption capacity compared with the manufactured-gas epoch. Sediments from the manufactured-gas epoch exhibit substantial PAH and metal contamination, large amounts of coke and char, and a low sorption capacity. Reexposure of sediments of this epoch increases risks to local benthic species. Implications on natural recovery as a sediment management strategy are discussed. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:843–851. © 2010 SETAC