Air pollutant contamination and acidification of surface waters in the North York Moors, UK: Multi-proxy evidence from the sediments of a moorland pool

Richard W. Battarbee*, Simon Turner, Handong Yang, Neil L. Rose, Peter M. Smyntek, Paula J. Reimer, Frank Oldfield, Vivienne J. Jones, Roger J. Flower, Kevin Roe, Ewan Shilland, Maarten Blaauw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Despite the extensive geographical range of palaeolimnological studies designed to assess the extent of surface water acidification in the United Kingdom during the 1980s, little attention was paid to the status of surface waters in the North York Moors (NYM). In this paper, we present sediment core data from a moorland pool in the NYM that provide a record of air pollution contamination and surface water acidification. The 41-cm-long core was divided into three lithostratigraphic units. The lower two comprise peaty soils and peats, respectively, that date to between approximately 8080 and 6740 cal. BP. The uppermost unit comprises peaty lake muds dating from between approximately ad 1790 and the present day (ad 2006). The lower two units contain pollen dominated by forest taxa, whereas the uppermost unit contains pollen indicative of open landscape conditions similar to those of the present. Heavy metal, spheroidal carbonaceous particle, mineral magnetics and stable isotope analysis of the upper sediments show clear evidence of contamination by air pollutants derived from fossil-fuel combustion over the last c. 150years, and diatom analysis indicates that the naturally acidic pool became more acidic during the 20th century. We conclude that the exceptionally acidic surface waters of the pool at present (pH=c. 4.1) are the result of a long history of air pollution and not because of naturally acidic local conditions. We argue that the highly acidic surface waters elsewhere in the NYM are similarly acidified and that the lack of evidence of significant recovery from acidification, despite major reductions in the emissions of acidic gases that have taken place over the last c. 30years, indicates the continuing influence of pollutant sulphur stored in catchment peats, a legacy of over 150years of acid deposition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-237
Number of pages12
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • air pollution
  • diatom analysis
  • geochemistry
  • magnetic measurements
  • North York Moors
  • pollen analysis
  • spheroidal carbonaceous particles
  • stable isotopes
  • surface water acidification


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