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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Heavy Metals in the Environment

Elevated Lead and Zinc Contents in Remote Alpine Soils of the Swiss National Park


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 30 No. 3, p. 919-926
    Received: July 17, 2000

    * Corresponding author(s): nowack@ito.umnw.ethz.ch
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  1. Bernd Nowack *a,
  2. Jean-Marc Obrechta,
  3. Mathias Schluepa,
  4. Rainer Schulina,
  5. Werner Hansmannb and
  6. Victor Köppelb
  1. a Inst. of Terrestrial Ecology, Swiss Federal Inst. of Technology Zürich (ETH), Grabenstrasse 11a, CH-8952 Schlieren, Switzerland
    b Inst. for Isotope Geology and Mineral Resources, Swiss Federal Inst. of Technology Zürich (ETH), CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland


Weathering of bedrock and pedogenic processes can result in elevated heavy metal concentrations in the soil. Small-scale variations in bedrock composition can therefore cause local variations in the metal content of the soil. Such a case was found in the remote alpine area of the Swiss National Park. Soil profiles were sampled at an altitude of about 2400 m, representing soils developed above different bedrocks. The concentration of lead in the profiles was found to be strongly dependent on the metal content in the bedrock underlying the soil and was strongly enriched in the top 10 cm. The dolomitic bedrock in the study area contains elevated lead concentrations compared with other dolomites. Dissolution of dolomite and accumulation of weathering residues during soil formation resulted in high lead concentrations throughout the soil profile. The enrichment of lead in the topsoil, however, is largely attributed to atmospheric input. The isotopic signature of the lead clearly indicates that it is mainly of natural origin and that atmospheric deposition of anthropogenic lead contributed to about 20 to 40% to the lead concentration in the topsoil on the bedrock with elevated lead concentrations. In the soils on bedrock with normal lead concentrations, the anthropogenic contribution is estimated to be about 75%. Also, zinc was very strongly enriched in the topsoil. This enrichment was closely correlated with the organic matter distribution in the profiles, suggesting that recycling through plant uptake and litter deposition was a dominant process in the long-term retention of this metal in the soil.

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Copyright © 2001. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.30:919–926.