, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 89-107

Heavy metal pollution and lake acidity changes caused by one thousand years of copper mining at Falun, central Sweden

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One thousand years of mining of sulfurous ores at the Falun copper mine, central Sweden, and the resulting atmospheric emissions of metals and sulfur dioxide, gives a unique opportunity to study long-term responses to acid deposition. Copper production peaked in the 17th century, when Falun supplied 2/3 of the world's copper production. Thereafter production and associated emissions have declined, and the mine was closed in the 1990's. Sediment cores from 14 lakes situated between 3-27 km from the mine have been analyzed for Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd, S and 206Pb/207Pb isotope ratios to study the historical and geographical distribution of airborne pollutants. Diatoms have been analyzed to infer past lake acidity and to assess whether lake acidification has occurred and, if so, whether any recovery from acidification has occurred following the reduction in sulfur emissions. Eight of the fourteen lakes have acidified, beginning as early as the late 17th century, when the estimated annual emissions of SO2 amounted to 40,000 tons. This is perhaps the earliest known record of anthropogenic lake acidification. Despite the large historical deposition of sulfur, the pH has only decreased by 0.4–0.8 units, with the lowest diatom-inferred pH being 5.8. Effects of agriculture and forestry following the expanding mining industry may have counteracted acidification. Despite the 300 yrs of lowered emissions the diatom record shows no recovery in pH. There are still large amounts of sulfur accumulated in the soils in the area that may delay recovery from lake acidification. Afforestation in the area over the last 100 yrs may also play an important role in delaying the recovery process.