Long Term Atmospheric and Erosional Pollution As Recorded in Lake Sediments from Yunnan, China

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Aubrey L Hillman1, Mark B Abbott2, JunQing Yu3, Daniel Bain2 and TzeHuey Chiou-Peng4, (1)University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, United States, (2)University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Campus, Pittsburgh, PA, United States, (3)ISL Qinghai Institute for Salt Lakes, Chinese Academy Sciences, Xining, China, (4)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, United States
Human activities including agriculture, metallurgy (e.g. mining, processing, smelting), and deforestation have altered cycles of erosion and sedimentation in lake environments for thousands of years. In the Yunnan province of southwestern China, where written records are incomplete, it is unclear when, where, and how much disturbance occurred. Lake sediments offer a means to investigate a wide variety of human activities. Here, we present a lake sediment record from Erhai (25°43’N, 100°12’E) based on trace metal concentrations that reveals substantial atmospheric and erosional pollution to the lake environment over the last 4,000 years.

Sediments indicate the initiation of copper-based metallurgy at 3,600 years BP, the existence of which has been debated amongst archaeologists. Beginning 2,000 years BP, sedimentation rates increase and concentrations of metals such as aluminum, titanium, lead, and zinc increase. This is likely linked to increased sediment flux to the lake associated with the initiation of terraced agriculture according to historical documents. The most prominent feature of the record is an abrupt and intense increase in lead, silver, cadmium, and zinc beginning at 700 years BP. The peak of this increase occurs at 600 years BP and is consistent with historical records that the Mongols established the first government operated silver mine in Yunnan. Notably, the concentrations of lead during this time are an order of magnitude greater than modern day levels of pollution.