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

Noemí Silva-Sánchez, J. Edward Schofield, Tim M. Mighall, Antonio Martínez Cortizas, Kevin J. Edwards, Ian Foster

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-173
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
Early online date15 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 05/06/2015

This research was made possible through funding provided by the Leverhulme Trust, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Project CGL2010–20672) and Xunta de Galicia (grants R2014/001 and GPC2014/009). N Silva-Sánchez is currently supported by a FPU pre-doctoral grant (AP2010–3264) funded by the Spanish Government. Kirsty Golding, Andy McMullen, and Ian Simpson are thanked for their assistance with fieldwork. Alison Sandison produced the maps. Pete Langdon and two anonymous referees are thanked for comments that helped to improve the paper.


  • Greenland
  • Norse
  • soil erosion
  • Little Ice Age
  • lead (Pb)
  • metal pollution
  • FTIR
  • pollen
  • geochemistry


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