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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Environmental footprint of small-scale, historical mining and metallurgy in the Swedish boreal forest landscape: The Moshyttan blast furnace as microcosm

Myrstener, Erik; Biester, Harald; Bigler, Christian; Lidberg, William; Meyer-Jacob, Carsten; Rydberg, Johan; Bindler, Richard


The history of mining and smelting and the associated pollution have been documented using lake sediments for decades, but the broader ecological implications are not well studied. We analyzed sediment profiles covering the past similar to 10,000 years from three lakes associated with an iron blast furnace in central Sweden, as an example of the many small-scale furnaces with historical roots in the medieval period. With a focus on long-term lake-water quality, we analyzed multiple proxies including geochemistry, pollen and charcoal, diatom composition and inferred pH, biogenic silica (bSi), visible near-infrared spectroscopy (VNIRS)-inferred lake-water total organic carbon (LW-TOC), and VNIRS-inferred sediment chlorophyll (sed-Chl). All three lakes had stable conditions during the middle Holocene (similar to 5000 BCE to 1110 CE) typical of oligo-dystrophic lakes: pH 5.4-5.6, LW-TOC 15-18 mg L-1. The most important diatom taxa include, for example, Aulacoseira scalaris, Brachysira neoexilis, and Frustulia saxonica. From similar to 1150 CE, decreases in LW-TOC, bSi, and sed-Chl in all three lakes coincide with a suite of proxies indicating disturbance associated with local, small-scale agriculture, and the more widespread use of the landscape in the past (e.g. forest grazing, charcoal production). Most important was a decline in LW-TOC by 30-50% in the three lakes prior to the 20th century. In addition, the one lake (Fickeln) downstream of the smelter and main areas of cultivation experienced a shift in diatom composition (mainly increasing Asterionella formosa) and a 0.6 pH increase coinciding with increasing cereal pollen and signs of blast furnace activity. The pH did not change in the other two lakes in response to disturbance; however, these lakes show a slight increase (0.3-0.5 pH units) because of modern liming. LW-TOC has returned to background levels in the downstream lake and remains lower in the other two.


diatoms; environmental change; geochemistry; human impacts; lake-water carbon; sediment; total organic carbon

Published in

2019, volume: 29, number: 4, pages: 578-591

Authors' information

Myrstener, Erik
Umea University
Biester, Harald
Braunschweig University of Technology
Bigler, Christian
Umea University
Lidberg, William (Lidberg, William)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Meyer-Jacob, Carsten
Umea University
Rydberg, Johan
Umea University
Bindler, Richard
Umea University

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG6 Clean water and sanitation

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