Footprint of roman and modern mining activities in a sediment core from the southwestern Iberian Atlantic shelf

TitleFootprint of roman and modern mining activities in a sediment core from the southwestern Iberian Atlantic shelf
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMil-Homens, M, Vale, C, Naughton, F, Brito, P, Drago, T, Anes, B, Raimundo, J, Schmidt, S, Caetano, M
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Pagination1211 - 1221
Keywordsmining activities, Rare earth elements

Abstract A 5-m long sediment core (VC2B), retrieved in the Southwestern Iberian Atlantic shelf, at 96 m water depth, was used to assess major changes in climate and human activities during the last 9.7 kyrs. Analytical measurements included sedimentological (mean grain size, and the contents of sand, silt and clay), geochemical (major, minor, trace and rare earth elements; REEs) and chronological (210Pb and 14C) parameters. Two episodes of increment of fine-grained particles, occurring at 3050 \{BCE\} and 1350 CE, suggest the retreat of the coast line to the present level and the beginning of a wetter phase associated with the “Little Ice Age”. The North American Shale Composite (NASC)-normalized REE-pattern detected in the shelf is similar to that found in the Guadiana estuarine sediments. The possibility of this estuary as a contributor to the sediment load deposited in the adjacent coastal zone was indicated. Trace elements were significantly correlated with Al until 1850 CE, pointing that grain-size rules its distribution in sediments. The depth variation of As, Cu and Pb enrichment factors relative to background values shows two periods of intense human activity that can be mainly linked to mining: (i) across the Roman Period, marked by low enrichments; and (ii) starting on the second half of the 19th century until nowadays with significantly increased enrichments, especially of Pb and Cu. In addition to As, Cu and Pb, this period is also marked by high enrichments of Hg and Zn. Despite the decrease/closure of sulphide massive deposits mining exploitation (e.g., São Domingos, Las Herrerias) during the second half of the 20th century, results showed ongoing input of Pb, Cu, As, Hg and Zn to coastal sediments. Thus, the legacy of contamination by these elements, mainly from leaching of slags and tailings, and remobilization/reworking of contaminated estuarine sediments, is still recorded in marine sediments.