Friday, 14 July 2006

Chemical and Physical Degradation of Natural Soils in Northwestern Europe: Results of Large-Scale Regional Studies.

Galina Kashulina1, Clemens Reimann2, Reijo Salminen3, Victor Chekushin4, and Igor Bogatyrev4. (1) Polar Alpine Botanical Garden Institute KSC RAS, Fersman st. 18a, Apatity, RUS184200, Russia, (2) Geological Survey of Norway, Leiv Eirikssons vei 39, TRONDHEIM, N7491, Norway, (3) Geological Survey of Finland, P.O.Box 96, Espoo, FIN02151, Finland, (4) State Company Mineral, Vesel'naya st . 6, St.Petersburg, RUS199106, Russia

Spread over a 1,500,000 km2 area in Northern Europe more than 1300 locations were studied during 2000-2001 in the course of a complex environmental geochemical mapping project ( The project area encompasses the whole territory of Finland and the northwestern part of Russia. Already during 1995 the western part of the Kola Peninsula and neighboring areas of Finland and Norway were studied using a similar methodology during the Kola Ecogeochemistry project ( at a higher sampling density (650 sites spread over 188,000 km2). The latitudinal extent of the area is about 2,000 km (from 59oN to 71oN). Thus natural conditions vary significantly: from southern boreal coniferous forest in the southern part to arctic tundra in the northern part on the coastal area of the Barents Sea. A large proportion of the project area is remote and sparsely populated. Some large industrial centres occur within the project area, e.g., the nickel smelters on the Kola Peninsula, which are among the world's largest SO2 and heavy metal emission sources and a large coal mining area in Vorkuta in the northeastern part of the study area near the Ural Mountains, and the Timan-Pechora gas and oil production area west of Vorkuta. The south-western parts of the project area are much more populated and contain such large cities as Helsinki and St. Petersburg with their urbanized surroundings. Parallel to multimedia environmental sampling and analysis, a qualitative visual estimate of the state of the ecosystem and its major components including soil erosion was performed for each studied site (altogether 1365 sites). Although this area is the most pristine in Europe, only 20% of the studied sites had no visual signs of human impact. Most forested locations (55% of all studied sites) showed different stages of post forest fire or tree cutting restoration or succession. The most serious damage, including intensive soil erosion, in the area is connected to reindeer overgrazing followed by airborn pollution from industry. In general, 45 % of all sites had visual signs of ecosystem damage. The most serious situation with soil physical degradation is a characteristic for the tundra areas due to reindeer overgrazing. Soil erosion was observed at 65 % of the tundra ecosystems (or 12 % of all studied sites). The most pronounced chemical degradation of soil was found in the northwesternmost part of the project area, subjected to airborne contamination from industries located on the Kola Peninsula. Industrial activities here include two of the world's largest SO2 and heavy metal emission sources, the nickel industry at Monchegorsk and Nickel/Zapolarniy and apatite ore mining and processing at Apatity. These industries are responsible for soil pollution by a large spectrum of elements. Elevated concentrations of the major contaminants from the Ni-industry (Ni, Cu and Co) in the soils were found over an area of 100,000 km2 on the Kola Peninsula and neighboring areas of Finland and Norway. Ni, Cu and Co concentrations in the soils near major emission sources exceeded background values by a factor of 1000. Smaller anomalies and a lesser degree of pollution (max. tenfold increase above background) is specific for Ag, Al, As, Be, Bi, Cd, Cr, La, Hg, Fe, Mn, Mo, Pb, Sc, Sb, Sr, Th, Tl and V. Soil contamination around other emission sources in the region (the large coal mining area near Vorkuta and all large cities (St.-Petersburg, Helsinki, Archangelsk and Petrozavodsk) is limited to a few tenths of km around emission sources and does not exceed a tenfold increase above background. The prevalent contaminants are Fe, V, Cr and Cd. In spite of the limited contaminated area, the environmental impact of these emission sources is important, because it concerns a substantial population. Thus, the situation with physical and chemical degradation of soils in Northwestern Europe is quite profound and this area deserves more attention from scientists and politicians.

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