• Diagenesis;
  • geochemical fractionation;
  • heavy metals;
  • magnetic properties;
  • rias

The rias of NW Spain are coastal ecosystems of high biological productivity and great economic importance. They are intensively exploited by man for fish and shellfish. There are a number of important centres of population and industrial activity along their margins, which serve as sources of contamination. In this context, it is desirable to achieve the best possible understanding of the physico-chemical processes that control spatial and temporal variations in the geochemical, mineralogical and sedimentological characteristics of near-surface sediments in the Ria de Pontevedra and, in particular, the distribution and mobility of heavy metal contaminants. Thus, adequate environmental planning can be achieved for this site and understanding gained for comparable contexts. Core samples were examined from the inner, middle and outer parts of the ria. Grain-size distributions reflect the presence of two main populations, one dominated by silt and clay, derived mainly from terrestrial sources, and the other by fine sand to coarse silt, which is derived mainly from continental shelf and ria mouth sources. Mineralogical analysis shows an abundance of terrestrial intensive-weathering products near the ria head, a dominance of shelf-derived sediment towards the mouth and the presence of several diagenetic minerals whose nature varies with location within the ria. In the inner ria, the near-surface sediments are slightly enriched in Pb, Cu and Zn from anthropogenic sources. These sediments are fine grained and have a high organic content; hence, they have a higher potential to sorb contaminants than the coarser grained, less organic-rich sediments of the mid and outer ria. The estimated sedimentation rates for the fine-grained organic-rich sediments from the inner part of the ria are about 1 mm year–1. The dominant authigenic minerals in the inner ria are iron sulphides, whereas in the mid and outer ria, iron silicates and oxyhydroxides are more important. These differences in authigenic iron mineralogy are clearly reflected by the magnetic properties of the sediments.