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Natural and anthropogenic aerosols from ice and sediment Alpine records: Climatic, stratigraphic, and environmental implications.

English title Natural and anthropogenic aerosols from ice and sediment Alpine records: Climatic, stratigraphic, and environmental implications.
Applicant Thevenon Florian
Number 136899
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Institut F.-A. Forel Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.11.2011 - 30.04.2012
Approved amount 86'488.00
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All Disciplines (9)

Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Other disciplines of Earth Sciences
Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology

Keywords (1)

Sediments, WWTP, trace elements, bacteria

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary

This follow-up project aims to reconstruct natural (climatic) and anthropogenic-induced hydrological changes and to provide new insights on the anthropogenic pollutants emitted in European environment over the last centuries, by focusing on:

(1)   The largest freshwater lake of Western Europe (Lake Geneva) and especially on industrial (trace metals) and microbial (pathogenic bacterial activity and resistance to antibiotic) pollution in the Vidy Bay; where are discharges the treated wastewaters of Lausanne since 50 years.

(2)   A drinking reservoir (Lake Brêt) in order to evaluate the impacts of agricultural activities and sewage emissions on the pollution of drinking water in Switzerland over the last century. Results demonstrate a slight enrichment in anthropogenic heavy metal since the 1950s but an additional (agricultural) source of copper during the last decade. In the absence of industries in the catchment, the records of DDT and PCBs highlight the long-range atmospheric transport of POPs that contaminated rural water resources via catchment runoff.

(3)   Human impact on the deposition of anthropogenic and natural trace element fluxes were measured in sediment cores from Lake Biel and from two upstream lakes (Lake Brienz and Lake Thun), all three connected by the Aare River. Results indicate that that the construction of sediment-trapping reservoirs significantly decreased regional riverine sediment discharge. Radiometric dating of the sediment core from Lake Biel furthermore identified hydrological releases of anthropogenic radionuclides from the nuclear reactor of Mühleberg located at ~15 km from Lake Biel.

Five publications (in refereed journals) directly resulting from this follow-up proposal are in process of publication.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
American Geophysical Union (AGU) 05.12.2011 San Francisco (USA)

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
121994 Natural and anthropogenic mineral aerosols from ice and sediment Alpine records: Climatic, stratigraphic, and environmental implications. 01.11.2008 Ambizione


This research project aims to investigate further the results of the initial Ambizione research work, and to provide new insights on the impact of the anthropogenic pollutants emitted in European environment since the industrial revolution. Such task will be conducted by studying complementary climatic archives (glaciers and lakes) that allow to reconstruct natural variations of heavy metal concentrations and human-induced increases in toxic heavy metal inputs.This study complements recent work published on a high-altitude Alpine lake (Meidsee, located at 2661 m a.s.l. in the Southern Alps) that exhibits similar pattern of anthropogenic lead (Pb) deposition and composition than a ice core record from the Greenland ice sheet, due to intensive mining activities during the Greek and Roman periods (300 BC to AD 400; Thevenon et al., 2011a). These results demonstrate a homogeneous large-scale pollution of the Northern hemisphere sustained by long-range transport of air pollutants from mid-latitude regions; in agreement with the intercontinental transport of Saharan mineral dust to the high-altitude Colle Gnifetti glacier (located at 4555 m. a.s.l. in the Southern Alps; Thevenon et al., 2011b). In addition to these global-signal patterns that concern the last few thousand years, this follow-up project more specifically concerns the pollution of atmospheric and aquatic environments over the last decades to centuries in Switzerland. Hence, natural archives (e.g., glaciers, lakes, and peat deposits) demonstrate that the most dramatic increase in the deposition of anthropogenic metal pollution occurred after the European Industrial Revolution of late 18th and early 19th centuries (Shotyk et al., 2002); whereas maximum levels of heavy metal pollution (up to fifty times natural values) were recovered from the largest freshwater lake of Western Europe during the 20th century (Thevenon et al., in review). In addition to the former studied sites (Lake Lucerne, Lake Geneva, Meidsee, Colle Gnifetti glacier, and research station Jungfraujoch ), this follow-up project wills to investigate three new case study sites that are briefly presented below. - Lake Bret, located near Lausanne, is a reservoir of drinking water whose water quality is affected by numerous surrounding agricultural fields and by influent water that is receiving the effluents of three waste water treatment plants. Such study is therefore particularly relevant regarding the impacts of agricultural activities, combined to sewage emissions, on the pollution of freshwater (drinking water).- Bouvières pond, located near Geneva, is open for fishing while it is located at only 1 km from the Cheneviers incinerator plant. This site is therefore valuable for evaluating the impact of a municipal waste incinerator on the atmospheric emission of persistent organic pollutant (POPs), in an environment dedicated to the conservation and the restoration of ecosystems. - Lake of Grand Maclu, located in the Jura Mountains, is a remote lake preserved from anthropogenic pollution, which will provide information about natural bacterial activity and sediment digenesis in uncontaminated ecosystem.Finally, airborne aerosols from the Colle Gnifetti glacier and the research station Jungfraujoch will be analyzed for their Pb isotopic composition, in order to characterize high altitude atmospheric pollution sources over the (pre-) industrial period. These data will be compared with the high (Meidsee) and low (Lake Lucerne) altitude sedimentary records already analyzed for their Pb isotopic composition, in order to 1) apprehend the spatial and temporal dispersions of anthropogenic pollutants to atmospheric and aquatic environments over the last centuries, and 2) the behavior of these pollutants in modern ecosystems affected by human activities (e.g. industrial and domestic waste management) and global warming (e.g., increases in lake water temperature and stratification).