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Reconstructing historic and modern anthropogenic FSU heavy metal pollution

English title Reconstructing historic and modern anthropogenic FSU heavy metal pollution
Applicant Eichler Anja
Number 181985
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Paul Scherrer Institut
Institution of higher education Paul Scherrer Institute - PSI
Main discipline Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Start/End 01.04.2019 - 31.03.2023
Approved amount 280'964.00
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All Disciplines (5)

Discipline
Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Archaeology
Geochemistry
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Inorganic Chemistry

Keywords (8)

Former Soviet Union; FSU; ice core; air pollution; heavy metals; Altai; emission estimates; archaeometallurgy

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Schwermetalle, wie zum Beispiel Blei, Cadmium und Quecksilber sind toxische Schadstoffe, die den Menschen und die Umwelt schädigen können. Früheste signifikante anthropogene Emissionen von Schwermetallen aus dem Bergbau vermutet man vor über 6000 Jahren, der Beginn ist hingegen kaum erforscht. Heutzutage haben viele Länder das Aarhuser Luftreinhalteabkommen für Schwermetalle ratifiziert; es wurde jedoch von Russland und den meisten anderen Ländern der früheren SU (FSU) noch nicht unterschrieben. Obwohl in diesen Ländern auch heute noch grosse Mengen an toxischen Schwermetallen freigesetzt werden, ist das Ausmass nahezu unbekannt.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojektes

Unser Ziel ist es, die Schwermetallbelastung auf dem Gebiet der FSU in den letzten 7000 Jahren zu untersuchen. Hierfür werden wir Schwermetalle in 3 verschiedenen Eisbohrkernen aus dem Sibirischen und Mongolischen Altai analysieren. Basierend auf diesen Messungen werden wir a) den Beginn der Schwermetallbelastung durch den Menschen in diesem Gebiet erforschen und b) heutige Emissionen toxischer Schwermetalle quantifizieren.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext des Forschungsprojekts

Unser Projekt wird neue und wichtige Informationen über Schwermetallemissionen auf dem Gebiet der FSU liefern. Dieses Wissen ist zum einen essentiell für die Klärung der Frage nach dem Beginn des «Anthropozäns», dem Zeitalter, in dem der Mensch zu einem der wichtigsten Einflussfaktoren auf die biologischen, geologischen und atmosphärischen Prozesse auf der Erde geworden ist. Zum anderen dienen diese Ergebnisse der Verbesserung von nationalen Schwermetall-Emissionsstatistiken in den Ländern der früheren SU. Dies ist die Grundlage für die Einführung von Luftreinhaltemassnahmen zur Reduktion der Emissionen von toxischen Schwermetallen in diesen Ländern.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 15.03.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Name Institute

Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
119743 Palaeo climate reconstruction from the highly continental Mongolian Altai 01.05.2009 Project funding (Div. I-III)
154450 Paleo fires from high-alpine ice cores 01.01.2015 Sinergia
134564 Palaeo climate reconstruction from Tsambagarav ice core, Mongolian Altai 01.05.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The atmospheric cycle of heavy metals introduced by human activities is much more extended than their natural cycle and has caused related pollution to be a worldwide issue for humans and the environment. Toxic heavy metals have been released into the atmosphere for thousands of years. The onset of anthropogenic metal pollution represents a time marker for confining the Anthropocene (the epoch of significant human impact on the Earth's systems), which is currently under debate. Evidence for earliest heavy metal pollution in North and South America, Western Europe, Southern Asia, Australia, and Antarctica comes from trace-element records of natural archives such as ice cores, peat bogs, and sediment cores. These archives suggest an onset of earliest metal pollution varying from ~4500-3400 BC in North America to the 19th century AD in Australia and Antarctica. Contrary, no information exists yet about the onset of anthropogenic heavy metal pollution in northern Eurasia and Central Asia, i.e. the huge territory of Russia and the other countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU). This region is known for extensive metallurgical activities beginning already in the 5th millennium BC, however the atmospheric imprint of these early activities and thus, the onset of the Anthropocene in this region is not understood so far.Although heavy metals are among the most toxic substances, exposure to these metals continues, and is even increasing in some parts of the world, e.g. Asia. In the UNECE region (including Europe, the Central Asian countries, Israel, Canada, and the USA) much has been done during the past decades to reduce heavy metal emissions. The implementation of the Protocol on Heavy Metals to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) was entered into force in 2003 and has been signed and/or successfully ratified by 41 countries. Russia and other FSU countries including the Caucasus and Central Asian republics did not sign the protocol yet. In 1991, FSU heavy metal emissions accounted for up to 50% of the total European emissions. However, due to scarce monitoring data and fragmentary reporting, post-Soviet Union emission levels are not well understood and it is unclear if recent values are below, similar, or above maximum Soviet Union levels. Official FSU emission estimates report declining levels for Pb and Cd during the period 1990-2007. However, based on increasing heavy metal concentrations during the 1990s in a Central Asian ice core we suggest that reemerging metal production in the FSU countries since the 1990s with partly still old technologies caused an increase in heavy metal pollution in northern Eurasia and Central Asia not considered in the official statistics and the scientific community until now. This project will focus on the reconstruction of heavy metal pollution for the region of the FSU for the past ~7000 years using three different ice cores from study sites in the Siberian and Mongolian Altai. The study aims a) at establishing the onset of human-induced metal pollution on the territory of the FSU in order to constrain the Anthropocene in this unexplored region; and b) at quantifying recent, post-Soviet Union emissions allowing to place recent changes into a historical perspective and to provide emission inventories for a site with sparse atmospheric monitoring. Reconstructions of ice-core trace element records will be complemented with archaeometallurgical investigations and historical expert heavy metal emission estimates. The results of the project will be relevant in anthropological and environmental respect. First, it will tackle a basic question of environmental anthropology, when human societies first began to play a significant role in shaping the earth's ecosystems. Second, the results of this study will have a significant impact on the improvement of national environmental statistics in the countries of the FSU and the implementations of emission control technologies to reduce concentrations of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere.
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