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Life in extraordinary concentrations (a tribute to Peter Beuge)

Jörg Matschullat

Author Affiliations

Interdisciplinary Environmental Research Centre, TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Brennhausgasse 14, D-09599, Freiberg, Germany

Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:25  doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-25

Published: 3 October 2012



Our growing humankind needs fertile soils for its sustainable development. Population growth and related use of resources, jointly with environmental pollution seem to contradict that demand. Recently available geochemical atlases allow for a better assessment of representative soil chemistry and potential pollution status, and thus for more efficient planning and development.


Despite millennia of human soil use (agriculture and forestry) and perceived abuse (mining etc.), most of Europe’s soils are on the continental scale more strongly influenced by natural forces (primarily geology/lithology) than by human impact. Even in large conurbations (e.g., Berlin), baseline values can be encountered in the city centre and in spatial proximity to highly contaminated sites. In a country like Brazil, where significant human impact started only about 500 years ago, challenges appear more demanding, due to the very old age of most soils and a radical depletion of nutrients. Yet, relatively recent site-specific to local contamination appears almost negligible in comparison, again corroborating the dominant role of natural forces and processes (geology, climate). Both regions, representing significant northern and southern hemispheric conditions, show for most chemical elements a very wide natural concentration range.


The objective necessity to clean up polluted sites and to avoid additional soil pollution can be strongly supported by acknowledging the highly localized true contamination of soils. Related governmental regulations (threshold values etc.) should be applied with a deeper understanding for natural variability and for real risks involved in positive pedogeochemical anomalies, thus saving money and frustration.

Pedogeochemistry; Threshold values; Background or baseline values; Europe; Brazil; Australia