A 1500-year record of lead, copper, arsenic, cadmium, zinc level
in Antarctic seal hairs and sediments
Xuebin Yina,b, Xiaodong Liua, Liguang Suna,c,⁎, Renbin Zhua,
Zhouqing Xiea, Yuhong Wanga,d
aInstitute of Polar Environment, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230026, P.R. China
bState Key Lab. of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing, Jiangsu 210008, P.R. China
cCAS Key Laboratory of Crust–Mantle Materials and Environments, School of Earth and Space Sciences,
University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230026, China
dNational Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
Received 25 April 2006; received in revised form 13 July 2006; accepted 13 July 2006
Available online 22 August 2006
To reconstruct the profiles of heavy metal levels in the South Ocean ecosystem of Antarctica, the concentrations of lead (Pb),
copper (Cu), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), and zinc (Zn) in seal hairs and lake sediments spanning the past 1500 years from Fildes
Peninsula of King George Island and in weathering lake sediments from Nelson Island of West Antarctica were determined. The lead
contents in the seal hairs and the weathering sediments show a sharp increase since the late 1800s, very likely due to anthropogenic
contamination from modern industries. After the 1980s, the Pb content in seal hairs dropped by one-third, apparently due to the
substantially affected by climatic conditions. The concentrations of Cd, As, and Zn do not show any clear temporal trends.
© 2006 Published by Elsevier B.V.
Keywords: Antarctica; Seal hair; Excrement; Heavy metal; Anthropogenic source; Natural source
The Antarctic Continent, thanks to its remarkable
distance from thickly populated areas and its poor
for research on the global changes caused by man in the
environment. The sources of modern atmospheric
contaminants on the remote continent can be well tracked
by their characteristic component of aerosol (Rahn, 1982;
Rahn et al., 1989; Dick, 1991; Slemr and Langer, 1992).
The ice cores in the Antarctic and Greenland (Vandal et
al., 1993; Hong et al., 1994; Wolff and Suttie, 1994;
Wolff etal.,1999; Candeloneetal.,1995; Planchonetal.,
2002), and lake sediments (Muir et al., 1995, 1996; Blais
et al., 1998; Jackson et al., 2004) have been analyzed to
investigate long-term depositional flux and emission of
heavy metals from natural and anthropogenic sources
(Fitzgerald et al., 1998). The researches on the ice cores
indicate that anthropogenic activities have become the
most important source of Pb in Antarctic and Greenland
(Planchon et al., 2002), and the record of Pb in the lake
sediments there can even be used as a chronological
marker for Europe (Renberg et al., 2001). The level of Pb
Science of the Total Environment 371 (2006) 252–257
⁎Corresponding author. Institute of Polar Environment, University
of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230026, P.R.
E-mail address: email@example.com (L. Sun).
0048-9697/$ - see front matter © 2006 Published by Elsevier B.V.
especially from non-ferrous metal mining and smelting
(Wolff et al., 1999; Planchon et al., 2002).
Similar trend does not exist in the seal hairs and in the
HF4 sediments, except for the abrupt increase of zinc at
the surface (Table 2). For the past 1500 years, the con-
centrations of As, Cd and Zn in the seal hairs and the
sediments of HF4 were very stable (Fig. 3). The in-
creasing Zn concentration near the surface is likely from
anthropogenic contamination, consistent with the report
that the aerosol in Antarctica is contaminated by the Zn
of modern industries (Dick, 1991).
The Pb concentration in the studied seal hairs and
weathering sediments sharply increased after the late
1800s, very likely the result of modern industrial activi-
ties; but it has fell by one third since the 1980s thanks to
the reduced use of leaded gasoline in the Southern
Hemisphere. The fluctuations of the Cu level seem to be
associated with climatic conditions. The contents of
As, Cd and Zn do not exhibit any remarkable temporal
Authors wish to thank Kenneth A. Rahn (University
of Rhode Island) for valuable advices and discussions.
The present study was financially supported by the
National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant
Nos. 40476001 and 40231002).
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