Heavy Metal, Rare Earth Element and Pb Isotope Dynamics in Mussels During a Depuration Experiment in the Gulf of Aqaba, Northern Red Sea

Tal Benaltabet*, Eldad Gutner-Hoch, Adi Torfstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Mussels are considered highly efficient marine biomonitors, tracing anthropogenic and natural variations in heavy metals and various organic compounds. While heavy metals depuration processes in biomonitors are of growing interest, less knowledge is available regarding their Pb isotopes and rare earth elements (REEs) accumulation-release dynamics, and their response to short-term anthropogenic and terrigenous perturbations. Here, we report the results of a relocation experiment where a group of mussels (Brachidontes pharaonis) were extracted from a contaminated lagoon in the Gulf of Aqaba, northern Red Sea, and placed in water tanks that were flushed continuously with fresh, uncontaminated seawater. Specimens were removed periodically from the water table over a period of 13 weeks and trace and REEs and Pb isotopic compositions were determined separately for mussel’s shells and soft tissues. The results display a clear decrease over time in the concentrations of various heavy metals and REEs in the soft tissue, in concert with a similar shift in the Pb isotopic compositions toward seawater values. By contrast, the elemental and Pb isotopic composition of the shell presents little change over time. Coupling between the Pb isotopic composition of corresponding soft tissue and shell samples allows back-calculation of the timing and magnitude of abrupt pollution events and presents a novel approach for monitoring short-term pollution events. Nevertheless, given the coastal setting of the studied samples, it is important to consider the effects of terrigenous material on the results. Accordingly, Al-normalized element concentrations, Pb isotopes and calculated Ce anomalies, are used to identify two distinct terrigenous end members controlling the contaminated lagoon and the pristine site. The study demonstrates the potential of using mussels as robust biomonitors of natural and anthropogenic environmental perturbations through the combination between elemental concentrations and the isotopic composition of Pb.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number669329
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - 28 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Benaltabet, Gutner-Hoch and Torfstein.


  • Pb isotopes
  • biomonitoring
  • depuration
  • heavy metals
  • mussels
  • pollution
  • rare earth elements
  • red sea


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