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Historical anthropogenic heavy metal input to the south-eastern North Sea

The Helgoland Mud Area (HMA) in the German Bight, covering an area of approximately 500 km2, is one of a few depocentres for finer sediments in the North Sea. Radiocarbon and 210Pb analyses revealed continuous sedimentation over the last several centuries. Zinc (Zn) and lead (Pb) contents in the sediments show a distinct increase towards the youngest most sediments with the thickness of the heavy metal enriched sediments ranging from 15 to 103 cm. Stratigraphic data indicate that the onset of heavy metal enrichment is diachronous progressing north-westward over the depocentre, paralleled by a decrease in the thickness of the enriched layer. Beginning already during medieval times, the enhanced input of Zn and Pb seemingly is related to silver and zinc mining in the Harz Mountains and the Erzgebirge, well-known mining areas since the Bronze Age. Both regions are directly connected to the HMA by the Elbe and Weser rivers. Zn and Pb enrichment began in the south-eastern HMA and progressed subsequently with an average of 10 m per year north-westward, most likely triggered by variations in river discharge and by the hydrodynamic setting. Quantitative assessments of the Zn and Pb content in the sediments suggest that since the onset of enhanced Zn and Pb deposition, the anthropic Zn and Pb input in the HMA amounts to ~ 12,000 t and ~ 4000 t, respectively.
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Boxberg, F., Asendorf, S., Bartholomä, A., Schnetger, B., de Lange, W. P., & Hebbeln, D. (2019). Historical anthropogenic heavy metal input to the south-eastern North Sea. Geo-Marine Letters. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00367-019-00592-0
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