Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 3362–3370 | Cite as

Heavy metals of the Tibetan top soils

Level, source, spatial distribution, temporal variation and risk assessment
  • Jiujiang Sheng
  • Xiaoping Wang
  • Ping Gong
  • Lide Tian
  • Tandong Yao
Research Article



Due to its high elevation, rare human activities and proximity to south Asia where industries are highly developed, it is required to investigate the fragile environment of the Tibetan Plateau. We are aiming to obtain the concentration level, source, spatial distribution, temporal variation and potential environmental risk of Tibetan soils.


A total of 128 surf ace soil samples were collected and analyzed f or V, Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, As, Cd and Pb, and an additional 111 samples were analyzed f or Hg and total organic carbon. Concentration comparisons coupled with multivariate statistics were used to analysis the sources of elements of soils. We also carried out Risk assessment on the soils.


Concentrations of Hg, Cr, Ni, Cd and Pb are slightly higher than those of the late 1970s. Concentrations of Cr and Ni are higher than averaged world background values. Tibetan soils present a high natural As concentration level.


Anthropogenic sources may partly contribute to the elevated Hg, Cd and Pb concentrations. Cr and Ni are mainly originated from soil parent materials. Soil elements in Anduo and Qamdo regions may threaten the health of local people.


Heavy metal elements of Tibetan Plateau are mainly from the natural source. Arsenic present a high background level. Soil elements in Anduo and Qamdo regions may threaten the health of local people, which should be of concern to scientists and the government.


Trace element Heavy metal Soil Tibetan Plateau Multivariate statistics Risk assessment 

Supplementary material

11356_2012_857_MOESM1_ESM.xls (89 kb)
ESM 1(XLS 89 kb)
11356_2012_857_MOESM2_ESM.doc (306 kb)
ESM 2(DOC 305 kb)


  1. Adriano DC (1986) Trace elements in the terrestrial environment. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Aitchison JC, Badengzhu, Davis AM, Liu JB, Luo H, Malpas JG, McDermid IRC, Wu HY, Ziabrev SV, Zhou MF (2000) Remnants of a Cretaceous intra-oceanic subduction system within the Yarlung–Zangbo suture (southern Tibet). Earth Planet Sc Lett 183:231–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bowen HJM (1979) Environmental chemistry of the elements. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Brookfield ME (1993) The Himalayan passive margin from Precambrian to Cretaceous times. Sediment Geol 84:1–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chakraborti D, Sengupta MK, Rahman MM, Ahamed S, Chowdhury UK, Hossain MA, Mukherjee SC, Pati S, Saha KC, Dutta RN, Quamruzzaman Q (2004) Groundwater arsenic contamination and its health effects in the Ganga–Meghna–Brahmaputra plain. J Environ Monitor 6:74–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen T, Liu XM, Zhu MZ, Zhao KL, Wu JJ, Xu JM, Huang PM (2008) Identification of trace element sources and associated risk assessment in vegetable soils of the urban–rural transitional area of Hangzhou, China. Environ Pollut 151:67–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen T, Liu XM, Li X, Zhao KL, Zhang JB, Xu JM, Shi JC, Dahlgren RA (2009) Heavy metal sources identification and sampling uncertainty analysis in a field-scale vegetable soil of Hangzhou, China. Environ Pollut 157:1003–1010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cheng YA, Tian JL (1993) Background values of elements in Tibetan soil and their distribution. Science, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  9. Facchinelli A, Sacchi E, Mallen L (2001) Multivariate statistical and GIS-based approach to identify heavy metal sources in soils. Environ Pollut 114:313–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fu R, Hu YL, Wright JS, Jiang JH, Dickinson RE, Chen MX, Filipiak M, Read WG, Waters JW, Wu DL (2006) Short circuit of water vapor and polluted air to the global stratosphere by convective transport over the Tibetan Plateau. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103:5664–5669CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gowd SS, Reddy MR, Govil PK (2010) Assessment of heavy metal contamination in soils at Jajmau (Kanpur) and Unnao industrial areas of the Ganga Plain, Uttar Pradesh, India. J Hazard Mater 174:113–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Huang X, Li MM, Friedli HR, Song Y, Chang D, Zhu L (2011) Mercury emissions from biomass burning in China. Environ Sci Technol 45:9442–9448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Iqbal J, Shah MH (2011) Distribution, correlation and risk assessment of selected metals in urban soils from Islamabad, Pakistan. J Hazard Mater 192:887–898CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lee CS, Li XD, Shi WZ, Cheung SC, Thornton I (2006) Metal contamination in urban, suburban, and country park soils of Hong Kong: a study based on GIS and multivariate statistics. Sci Total Environ 356:45–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Li CL, Kang SC, Wang XP, Ajmone-Marsan F, Zhang QG (2008) Heavy metals and rare earth elements (REEs) in soil from the Nam Co Basin, Tibetan Plateau. Environ Geol 53:1433–1440Google Scholar
  16. Li CL, Kang SC, Zhang QG (2009) Elemental composition of Tibetan Plateau top soils and its effect on evaluating atmospheric pollution transport. Environ Pollut 157:2261–2265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Li CL, Kang SC, Zhang QG, Gao SP, Sharma CM (2011) Heavy metals in sediments of the Yarlung Tsangbo and its connection with the arsenic problem in the Ganges–Brahmaputra Basin. Environ Geochem Health 33:23–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lia XP, Feng LN (2010) Spatial distribution of hazardous elements in urban topsoils surrounding Xi'an industrial areas, (NW, China): controlling factors and contamination assessments. J Hazard Mater 174:662–669CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Loska K, Wiechula D, Korus I (2004) Metal contamination of farming soils affected by industry. Environ Int 30:159–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Luo W, Wang TY, Lu YL, Giesy JP, Shi YJ, Zheng YM, Xing Y, Wu GH (2007) Landscape ecology of the Guanting Reservoir, Beijing, China: multivariate and geostatistical analyses of metals in soils. Environ Pollut 146:567–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Manta DS, Angelone M, Bellanca A, Neri R, Sprovieri M (2002) Heavy metals in urban soils: a case study from the city of Palermo (Sicily), Italy. Sci Total Environ 300:229–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Müller G (1969) Index of geoaccumulation in sediments of the Rhine River. GeoJournal 2:108–118Google Scholar
  23. Obrist D, Johnson DW, Lindberg SE, Luo Y, Hararuk O, Bracho R, Battles JJ, Dail DB, Edmonds RL, Monson RK, Ollinger SV, Pallardy SG, Pregitzer KS, Todd DE (2011) Mercury distribution across 14 US forests. Part I: spatial patterns of concentrations in biomass, litter, and soils. Environ Sci Technol 45:3974–3981Google Scholar
  24. Parrish RR, Hodges KV (1996) Isotopic constraints on the age and provenance of the lesser and greater Himalayan sequences, Nepalese Himalaya. Geol Soc Am Bull 108:904–911CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Qishlaqi A, Moore F, Forghani G (2009) Characterization of metal pollution in soils under two landuse patterns in the Angouran region, NW Iran; a study based on multivariate data analysis. J Hazard Mater 172:374–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Qiu J (2010) Climate change: measuring the meltdown. Nature 468:141–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rawlins BG, Lark RM, Webster R, O'Donnell KE (2006) The use of soil survey data to determine the magnitude and extent of historic metal deposition related to atmospheric smelter emissions across Humberside, UK. Environ Pollut 143:416–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Reimann C, de Caritat P (2005) Distinguishing between natural and anthropogenic sources for elements in the environment: regional geochemical surveys versus enrichment factors. Sci Total Environ 337:91–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shedd KB (2006) Mineral year book 2006. United States Geological Survey. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/cobalt/myb1-2006-cobal.pdf
  30. Shi GT, Chen ZL, Xu SY, Zhang J, Wang L, Bi CJ, Teng JY (2008) Potentially toxic metal contamination of urban soils and roadside dust in Shanghai, China. Environ Pollut 156:251–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Smith AH, Lingas EO, Rahman M (2000) Contamination of drinking-water by arsenic in Bangladesh: a public health emergency. Bull World Health Organ 78:1093–1103Google Scholar
  32. State Development Center for Green-Food of China (2000) Environmental technical terms for green food production area (NY/T391-2000)Google Scholar
  33. State Environmental Protection Administration of China (1995) Chinese environmental quality standard for soils (GB 15618–1955)Google Scholar
  34. Sun JM, Li SH, Muhs DR, Li B (2007) Loess sedimentation in Tibet: provenance, processes, and link with Quaternary glaciations. Quat Sci Rev 26:2265–2280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Taylor SR, Mclennan SM (1995) The geochemical evolution of the continental-crust. Rev Geophys 33:241–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vine JD, Tourtelo EB (1970) Geochemistry of black shale deposits—a summary report. Eco Geol 65:253–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vinogradov AP (1959) The geochemistry of rare and dispersed chemical elements in soils. Consultants Bureau, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  38. Wang QYD, Cui Y, Liu X (2001) Instances of soil and crop heavy metal contamination in China. Soil Sediment Contam 10:497–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wang XP, Yao TD, Wang PL, Yang W, Tian LD (2008) The recent deposition of persistent organic pollutants and mercury to the Dasuopu glacier, Mt. Xixiabangma, central Himalayas. Sci Total Environ 394:134–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wang XP, Gong P, Yao TD, Jones KC (2010) Passive air sampling of organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers across the Tibetan Plateau. Environ Sci Technol 44:2988–2993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wedepohl KH (1995) The composition of the continental-crust. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 59:1217–1232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Yang PG, Mao RZ, Shao HB, Gao YF (2009) An investigation on the distribution of eight hazardous heavy metals in the suburban farmland of China. J Hazard Mater 167:1246–1251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Yang HD, Battarbee RW, Turner SD, Rose NL, Derwent RG, Wu GJ, Yang RQ (2010) Historical reconstruction of mercury pollution across the Tibetan Plateau using lake sediments. Environ Sci Technol 44:2918–2924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yin A, Harrison TM (2000) Geologic evolution of the Himalayan–Tibetan orogen. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci 28:211–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yin JX, Xu JT, Liu CJ, Li H (1988) The Tibetan Plateau—regional stratigraphic context and previous work. Philos Trans R Soc A 327:5–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Young RS (1957) The geochemistry of cobalt. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 13:28–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zhang CS (2006) Using multivariate analyses and GIS to identify pollutants and their spatial patterns in urban soils in Galway, Ireland. Environ Pollut 142:501–511CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zhang XP, Deng W, Yang XM (2002) The background concentrations of 13 soil trace elements and their relationships to parent materials and vegetation in Xizang (Tibet), China. J of Asian Earth Sci 21:167–174Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jiujiang Sheng
    • 1
  • Xiaoping Wang
    • 1
  • Ping Gong
    • 1
  • Lide Tian
    • 1
  • Tandong Yao
    • 1
  1. 1.Key laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations