Selenium in Ecosystems: The Kesterson Effect

Diagram showing the Kesterson Effect in Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, San Joaquin Valley, CA.

Detailed Description

Selenium contamination of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge is traced through irrigation drainage to the source bedrock of the California Coast Ranges. This biogeochemical pathway of selenium is defined here as the "Kesterson effect." At the refuge ponds, this effect culminated in 1983 in a 64% rate of deformity and death of embryos and hatchlings of wild aquatic birds. Selenium, as selenate, was ultimately found weathered with sulfur from marine sources in soluble sodium and magnesium sulfate salts, which are concentrated by evaporation on farmland soils. The Se, mobilized by irrigation drainage, is bioaccumulated to toxic levels in refuge wetland ponds that are located mainly in hydrologically closed basins and thus act as concentrating disposal points. The depositional environment of the ponds may be similar to that of the nutrient-rich continental shelf edge and slope in which Cretaceous, Eocene, and Miocene sediments found to be seleniferous in the California Coast Ranges were deposited. Bioaccumulation may be, therefore, a primary mechanism of selenium enrichment in ancient sediments in addition to that of the formerly suggested Cretaceous volcanic pathway.

Details

Image Dimensions: 572 x 756

Date Taken:

Location Taken: US