Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
02 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 02 Jan 2014

Trace metal distribution in pristine permafrost-affected soils of the Lena River delta and its hinterland, northern Siberia, Russia

I. Antcibor, A. Eschenbach, S. Zubrzycki, L. Kutzbach, D. Bolshiyanov, and E.-M. Pfeiffer

Abstract. Soils are an important compartment of ecosystems and have the ability to buffer and immobilize substances of natural and anthropogenic origin to prevent their movement to other environment compartments. Predicted climatic changes together with other anthropogenic influences on Arctic terrestrial environments may affect biogeochemical processes enhancing leaching and migration of trace elements in permafrost-affected soils. This is especially important since Arctic ecosystems are considered to be highly sensitive to climatic changes as well as to chemical contamination. This study characterises background levels of trace metals in permafrost-affected soils of the Lena River delta and its hinterland in northern Siberia (73.5–69.5° N), representing a remote region far from evident anthropogenic trace metal sources. Investigations on the element content of iron (Fe), arsenic (As), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), cobalt (Co), and mercury (Hg) in different soil types developed in different geological parent materials have been carried out. The highest median concentrations of Fe and Mn were observed in soils belonging to ice-rich permafrost sediments formed during the Pleistocene (ice-complex) while the highest median values of Ni, Pb and Zn were found in soils of both the ice-complex and the Holocene estuarine terrace of the Lena River delta region, as well as in the southernmost study unit of the hinterland area. Detailed observations of trace metal distribution on the micro scale showed that organic matter content, soil texture and iron-oxide contents influenced by cryogenic processes, temperature, and hydrological regimes are the most important factors determining the metal abundance in permafrost-affected soils. The observed range of trace element background concentrations was similar to trace metal levels reported for other pristine northern areas.

Final-revised paper