Recent, unmixed sediments from mud banks of central Florida Bay were dated using 210Pb/226Ra, and chronologies were verified by comparing sediment lead temporal records with Pb/Ca ratios in annual layers of coral (Montastrea annularis) located on the ocean side of the Florida Keys. Dates of sediment lead peaks (1978±2) accord with prior observations of a 6 year lag between the occurrence of maximum atmospheric lead in 1972 and peak coral lead in 1978. Smaller lags of 1–2 years occur between the maximum atmospheric radionuclide fallout and peaks in sediment temporal records of 137Cs and Pu. Such lags are consequences of system time averaging (STA) in which atmospherically delivered particle-associated constituents accumulate and mix in a (sedimentary?) reservoir before transferring to permanent sediments and coral. STA model calculations, using time-dependent atmospheric inputs, produced optimized profiles in excellent accord with measured sediment 137Cs, Pu, lead, and coral lead distributions. Derived residence times of these particle tracers (16±1, 15.7±0.7, 19±3, and 16±2 years, respectively) are comparable despite differences in sampling locations, in accumulating media, and in element loading histories and geochemical properties. For a 16 year weighted mean residence time, STA generates the observed 6 year lead peak lag. Evidently, significant levels of nondegradable, particle-associated contaminants can persist in Florida Bay for many decades following elimination of external inputs. Present results, in combination with STA model analysis of previously reported radionuclide profiles, suggest that decade-scale time averaging may occur widely in recent coastal marine sedimentary environments.
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