Global Biogeochemical Cycles

The geochemistry of the Yangtze River: Seasonality of concentrations and temporal trends of chemical loads


Corresponding author: B. Müller, Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, CH-6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland. (


[1] The Yangtze is the largest river in Asia and its water composition reflects the activities of about 400 Mio people in its catchment. Its chemical loads have a large impact on the biogeochemistry of the East China Sea. We discuss and quantify the annual dynamics of major ions, nutrients, and trace elements from samples collected monthly at Datong Station from May 2009 to June 2010. The Yangtze today carries 192 × 106 tons of total dissolved solids annually to the East China Sea, which is an increase of 25% compared to the average of 1958–1990. While the loads of dissolved silica (SiO2), dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), Ca2+ and Mg2+compared well with the long-term averages since the 1950s, loads of Na+, Cl, SO42−, have tripled since 1958–1990. The increase of SO42− is attributed to the burning of coal in the catchment, and 18% of the F load is estimated to originate from this source. The increase of Na+ and Clloads may be anthropogenic as well. The load of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) has increased 15 fold since the early measurements around 1970 and amounts to 1.6 Mt-N/yr today. The particulate concentrations of the typical anthropogenic trace metals Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn showed enrichment factors between 0.7 – 7 compared to the natural background. Their annual peak concentrations all exceeded the quality targets recommended by the EC up to two times. However, the load of trace elements at Datong decreased by 73–86% (As: 50%) in the past ten years.