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Climate changes, lead pollution and soil erosion in south Greenland over the past 700 years

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Noemí Silva-Sánchez
Edafología y Química Agrícola, Fac. Biología, Campus Sur, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Rúa Lope Gómez de Marzoa s/n. E-15782, Spain
J. Edward Schofield
Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK
Tim M. Mighall
Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK
Antonio Martínez Cortizas
Edafología y Química Agrícola, Fac. Biología, Campus Sur, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Rúa Lope Gómez de Marzoa s/n. E-15782, Spain
Kevin J. Edwards
Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK Department of Archaeology, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK
Ian Foster
School of Science and Technology, University of Northampton, Newton Building, Northampton NN2 6JD, UK


A peat core from southern Greenland provided a rare opportunity to investigate human-environment interactions, climate change and atmospheric pollution over the last ~ 700 years. X-ray fluorescence, gas chromatography-combustion, isotope ratio mass spectrometry, peat humification and fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy were applied and combined with palynological and archaeological evidence. Variations in peat mineral content seem to be related to soil erosion linked with human activity during the late Norse period (13th–14th centuries AD) and the modern era (20th century). Cooler conditions during the Little Ice Age (LIA) are reflected by both slow rates of peat growth and carbon accumulation, and by low bromine (Br) concentrations. Spörer and Maunder minima in solar activity may be indicated by further declines in Br and enrichment in easily degradable compounds such as polysaccharides. Peat organic matter composition was also influenced by vegetation changes at the end of the LIA when the expansion of oceanic heath was associated with polysaccharide enrichment. Atmospheric lead pollution was recorded in the peat after ~ AD 1845, and peak values occurred in the 1970s. There is indirect support for a predominantly North American lead source, but further Pb isotopic analysis would be needed to confirm this hypothesis.

University of Washington

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