SEGH Articles

Geochemistry in Africa

26 January 2017
Read about VicFalls 2018 and fieldwork in the Copperbelt

Michael Watts and Elliott Hamilton returned to Africa to undertake two main tasks; (1) find a conference venue for the Society for Environmental Geochemistry 2018 international conference to be hosted in Victoria Falls, and (2) undertake fieldwork in the Zambian copperbelt as part of the Royal Society-DFID project (Royal Society-DFID project).

We met up with Dr Godfrey Sakala (Zambian Agriculture Research Institute) and Professor Florence Mtambanengwe (University of Zimbabwe) in Victoria Falls and viewed venues for hosting 150-200 people.  The location is ideally suited, with ample accommodation, conference facilities, transport connections, activities, is safe to walk around and of course the spectacle of Victoria Falls. The Falls are a must see and a gentle introduction to Africa for the uninitiated, with many National Parks close by in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.  A video was filmed to begin the promotion of the conference and signpost SEGH 2018 VicFalls which will appear on  http://segh.net/events/  shortly.

We moved onto Zambia with Dr Sakala and headed up to Kitwe in the Copperbelt to join Prof. Maseka from the Copperbelt University to follow up on previous field collections in Mugala village where field characterisation identified specific plots for experimental trials to investigate the influence of soil management strategies, such as organic incorporation, liming, low tillage (Conservation Agriculture) on the uptake of metals deposited through dust onto agricultural soils from nearby mine tailings.  Elliott Hamilton will explain more in a follow-up blog about his PhD and some of the findings so far.  Belinda Kaninga, one of our Royal Society-DFID PhD students has set out her first season field experiments as identified by the site characterisation and will bring the resultant soil and crop samples to BGS for analysis next May. 

Both Elliott and Belinda are using the same location for experimental trials, with Elliott focussing on the control parameters for Chromium (Cr) soil-to-crop transfer employing elemental speciation and isotope dilution for pot experiments using soil samples collected on this visit across the range of Cr concentrations and soil pH identified. These experiments will be undertaken at Sutton Bonington campus (University of Nottingham).  The processing of samples back in ZARI also allowed us to work with lab staff, review training needs and preparations for our upcoming purchase of Microwave-Plasma Atomic Emission Spectrometers in each of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Belinda is investigating a broad panel of metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Mn, Al, Ni) and the application of specific Conservation Agriculture methodologies and potential influence on the availability of metals for soil-to-plant uptake.  Belinda has conducted pot trials at the ZARI research station in Lusaka, but as mentioned, recently set up her field plots in collaboration with the village chief and local farmers which will run over two growing seasons.  

A further project was initiated with Prof. Maseka and Dr Sakala to investigate the potential exposure to metals from dust inhalation from the Mugala mine tailings in the nearby village, comparing pathways of exposure from environmental samples through to biological samples from a biomonitoring collection (urine, blood).  The focus of the project will be a two-year MSc project undertaken by Lukundo Nakaona, in collaboration with the CBU Department for Environmental and Agricultural Sciences and Medical School, ZARI and BGS-UoN (CEG).  There are many other possibilities for environmental-health exposure and food security studies with our close partners at ZARI, CBU and UNZA (University of Zambia).  In particular, scope for GCRF proposals to provide capacity strengthening in technical capability to cement the strong scientific activities of our partners both in Zambia, the wider Royal Society-DFID network in Zimbabwe and Malawi and with other partners in Kenya and Tanzania.

By Michael Watts, Elliott Hamilton, Belinda Kaninga, Kenneth Maseka and Godfrey Sakala

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Exposure to respirable and fine dust particle over North-Central India: chemical characterization, source interpretation, and health risk analysis 2019-12-10

    Abstract

    This study enhances the understanding of the particulate matters (PM2.5 and PM10) and their physical and chemical behavior over the Taj Mahal, Agra, in North-Central India. The mass concentration was determined, and the shape and size of the particles and chemical characterizations have been carried out using SEM–EDX. The high level and significant variation of PM10 (162.2 µg m−3) and PM2.5 (83.9 µg m−3) were observed. The exceedance factor of the present study region is in critical and moderate condition. Morphological characterization reveals the particles of different shapes and sizes, while elemental analysis shows the presence of Si, Al, Fe, Ca, K, Cl, Mg, Na, Cu, and Zn. The dominance of Si indicated the contribution of natural sources, i.e., soil over this region. Three significant sources, viz. soil/road paved dust/vegetative emissions, vehicular/industrial emissions, and intermingling of dust and combustion particles, have been identified using principal component analysis over North-Central India. Health risk analysis of particulate matter identified carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic metals in the present study, which comes in contact with human beings during inhalation. The non-carcinogenic risk was much higher than the acceptable level. The high carcinogenic risks were found in Zn in PM10 and Cu in PM2.5 for both children and adults.

  • Integration of remote sensing data and in situ measurements to monitor the water quality of the Ismailia Canal, Nile Delta, Egypt 2019-12-10

    Abstract

    The Ismailia Canal is one of the most important tributaries of the River Nile in Egypt. It is threatened by extinction from several sources of pollution, in addition to the intersection and nearness of the canal path with the Bilbayes drain and the effluent from the two largest conventional wastewater treatment plants in Greater Cairo. In this study, the integration of remote sensing and geospatial information system techniques is carried out to enhance the contribution of satellite data in water quality management in the Ismailia Canal. A Landsat-8 operational land imager image dated 2018 was used to detect the land use and land cover changes in the area of study, in addition to retrieving various spectral band ratios. Statistical correlations were applied among the extracted band ratios and the measured in situ water quality parameters. The most appropriate spectral band ratios were extracted from the NIR band (near infrared/blue), which showed a significant correlation with eight water quality metrics (CO3, BOD5, COD, TSS, TDS, Cl, NH4, and fecal coliform bacteria). A linear regression model was then established to predict information about these important water quality parameters along Ismailia Canal. The developed models, using linear regression equations for this study, give a set of powerful decision support frameworks with statistical tools to provide comprehensive, integrated views of surface water quality information under similar circumstances.

  • Geophagy among East African Chimpanzees: consumed soils provide protection from plant secondary compounds and bioavailable iron 2019-12-01

    Abstract

    Geophagy, the intentional consumption of earth materials, has been recorded in humans and other animals. It has been hypothesized that geophagy is an adaptive behavior, and that clay minerals commonly found in eaten soil can provide protection from toxins and/or supplement micronutrients. To test these hypotheses, we monitored chimpanzee geophagy using camera traps in four permanent sites at the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda, from October 2015–October 2016. We also collected plants, and soil chimpanzees were observed eating. We analyzed 10 plant and 45 soil samples to characterize geophagic behavior and geophagic soil and determine (1) whether micronutrients are available from the soil under physiological conditions and if iron is bioavailable, (2) the concentration of phenolic compounds in plants, and (3) if consumed soils are able to adsorb these phenolics. Chimpanzees ate soil and drank clay-infused water containing 1:1 and 2:1 clay minerals and > 30% sand. Under physiological conditions, the soils released calcium, iron, and magnesium. In vitro Caco-2 experiments found that five times more iron was bioavailable from three of four soil samples found at the base of trees. Plant samples contained approximately 60 μg/mg gallic acid equivalent. Soil from one site contained 10 times more 2:1 clay minerals, which were better at removing phenolics present in their diet. We suggest that geophagy may provide bioavailable iron and protection from phenolics, which have increased in plants over the last 20 years. In summary, geophagy within the Sonso community is multifunctional and may be an important self-medicative behavior.