Speleothems and pine trees as sensitive indicators of environmental pollution - A case study of the effect of uranium-ore mining in Hungary

Zoltan Siklosy, Zoltan Kern, Attila Demeny, Sebastian Pilet, Szabolcs Leel-Ossy, Ke Lin, Chuan Chou Shen, Eva Szeles, Daniel Breitner

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Abstract

Four decades of U ore production in Hungary provides an opportunity to study the possible environmental effects of mining. The study reveals significant changes in chemical composition of a stalagmite (cave deposit). The good fit between U content changes in the studied deposit and the U ore production rate support the assumption of the relationship with mining activity. An independent chemoenviromental archive, living pine (Pinus sylvestis) trees were also investigated. Data on pine tree cores collected from the same region show different levels of pollution (Cu, Zn, Mn, U) after the 1950s and 1960s, linked to the opening of mines and subsequent dust fallout around the site. Elevated concentrations of detritally derived elements (Si, Al, Th) coupled with a rise in U concentration and change in δ234U values of the stalagmite suggest increasing amounts of mine-derived dust from 1 to 3km distance that settled and washed into the karst system. The combined usage of different proxies not only provides historic records for the anthropogenic impact in the environment, but also allows the timing of U concentration increases within the stalagmite and the identification of elemental behavior from the pollution. This study shows that complementary geochemical archives such as stalagmites and tree rings used together can enhance understanding of past environmental contamination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)666-678
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Volume26
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2011

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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