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Title: Anthropic signatures in alluvium of the Upper Little Tennessee River valley, Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

Author: Wang, Lixin; Leigh, David S.;

Date: 2015

Source: Anthropocene

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)


Human activities have become important influences on the fluvial systems of eastern North America since post-colonial settlement. This research identifies post-settlement anthropic signatures in alluvial sediments in the Upper Little Tennessee River, USA. Agricultural and mining activities were scattered and discontinuous in this relatively remote region of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. We compared physical and chemical characteristics of sediments in post-settlement and pre-settlement stratigraphic units at three separate sites. Chronologies were calculated using non-linear power functions based on radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence ages, as well as dates from 137Cs and historical records. These chronologies suggest that sedimentation rates increased with time during the post-settlement period but decreased with time during the pre-settlement period. In addition, long-term average sedimentation rates are one order-of-magnitude higher in the post-settlement time than in the pre-settlement time. Sediment becomes finer upward through the pre-settlement unit but coarsens-upward in the post-settlement unit. Statistical analyses on adsorbed elemental concentrations suggest that three elements (Ca, Hg, Pb) clearly differentiate sediments between pre-settlement and post-settlement periods. The identified anthropic signatures thus include higher sedimentation rates, coarser sediment texture, and higher concentrations of the three elements in the post-settlement units. These characteristics likely reflect human activities such as commercial timber harvest and scattered gold mining in the late 19th and early 20th century, modern agricultural practices, and urbanization since the 1970s. Findings of this study demonstrate significant impact on fluvial systems in regions with very limited history of intense human activities. This history stands in stark contrast to other parts of the world, like Europe and Asia, that record thousands of years of anthropic impact.

Keywords: Stratigraphy, sedimentology, sedimentation, soil chemistry, geochemistry

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Wang, Lixin; Leigh, David S. 2015. Anthropic signatures in alluvium of the Upper Little Tennessee River valley, Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA. Anthropocene, Vol. 11: 35-47. 13 p.


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