Heavy metal release by peat erosion in the Peak District, southern Pennines, UK

J. J. Rothwell, S. G. Robinson, M. G. Evans, J. Yang, T. E H Allott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Upper North Grain (UNG) is a heavily eroding blanket peat catchment in the Peak District, southern Pennines, UK. Concentrations of lead in the near-surface peat layer at UNG are in excess of 1000 mg kg-1. For peatland environments, these lead concentrations are some of the highest globally. High concentrations of industrially derived, atmospherically transported magnetic spherules are also stored in the near-surface peat layer. Samples of suspended sediment taken during a storm event that occurred on 1 November 2002 at UNG, and of the potential catchment sources for suspended sediments, were analysed for lead content and the environmental magnetic properties of anhysteretic remanent magnetization (ARM) and saturation isothermal remanent magnetization (SIRM). At the beginning of the storm event, there is a peak in both suspended sediment and associated lead concentration. SIRM/ ARM values for suspended sediment samples throughout the storm reveal that the initial 'lead flush' is associated with a specific sediment source, namely that of organic sediment eroded from the upper peat layer. Using the magnetic 'fingerprinting' approach to discrimination of sediment sources, this study reveals that erosion of the upper peat layer at UNG is releasing high concentrations of industrially derived lead (and, by inference, other toxic heavy metals associated with industrial particulates) into the fluvial systems of the southern Pennines. Climate-change scenarios for the UK, involving higher summer temperatures and stormier winters, may result in an increased flux both of sediment-associated and dissolved heavy metals from eroding peatland catchments in the southern Pennines, adversely affecting the quality of sediment and water entering reservoirs of the region. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2973-2989
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2005


  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Environmental magnetism
  • Fingerprinting
  • Heavy metals
  • Peat erosion
  • Southern Pennines


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