SEGH Articles

Urban Geochemical Mapping by the Geochemistry Expert Group of EuroGeoSurveys

25 March 2016
Given the fact that by 2050 more than 80% of the European population will be living in cities (United Nations, 2014), the quality of the urban environment is becoming an important issue in the 21st century.

Given the fact that by 2050 more than 80% of the European population will be living in cities (United Nations, 2014), the quality of the urban environment is becoming an important issue in the 21st century. Ever since the industrial revolution, with a peak after the Second World War, the urban environment has been contaminated with many toxic elements and compounds, which are being emitted by a wide variety of human activities (industry, traffic, domestic heating, coal and oil combustion, incineration, construction activities, etc.),  and often accumulate in urban soil.

Since, the 1970s a conscious attempt is being made in many countries to develop industrial estates outside the residential, commercial, and recreational parts of cities. Within the urban structure remain, however, the brownfield sites, and the enormous problem of their redevelopment in order to reduce the pressure on greenfield sites.  As many health-related problems are linked to the state of the urban environment, the European citizens want to know the geochemistry of the land their houses are built on. Moreover, it is very important that the chemical quality of soil in public places, such as schoolyards, parks, playgrounds, kindergartens, recreation areas, and workplaces is known. Estate agents need to know the quality of the land they are marketing, and insurance brokers the potential risks to their customers.

The Geochemistry Expert Group of EuroGeoSurveys realising that knowledge about soil contamination, geochemical background concentrations, and detailed spatial element distribution is becoming a key issue in urban planning initiated in 2008 an Urban Geochemistry project with the acronym URGE.  The first part was the compilation of all hitherto knowledge and its publication in a full-colour textbook “Mapping the Chemical Environment of Urban Areas” (Johnson et al., 2011):

The first part of the textbook covers more general aspects of urban chemical mapping, with an overview of current practice, and reviews of different features of the component methodologies (chemical analysis, quality control, data interpretation and presentation, risk assessment, etc.). The second part includes a number of case studies from different urban areas, principally from Europe, but with some contributions from North America, Africa and Asia.  Many of the chapters discuss the potential impact on human health and describe the multi-disciplinary effort, usually supported by legislation, required to deal with the legacy of contamination found in many urban areas.

Apart from the publication of the textbook, different urban geochemical projects were carried out in different European cities, and the results are in the process of being published in a Special Issue of the Journal of Geochemical Exploration on Urban Geochemical Mapping, thus ending the first phase of the URGE project.

One of the results of the textbook and the urban geochemical surveys that were carried out in Europe is that the comparability between investigations and results from different European cities, the European overview, is missing. Thus, a second phase of the URGE project is in the process of being initiated. The suggested project aims at advising the city administration how such studies should be carried out, and how the data are best stored, evaluated and presented.  Furthermore, a directly comparable database shall be built for a number of European reference cities (N=15-25), participating in the proposed project.  For this purpose, a detailed manual for sampling topsoil in urban areas has been written (Demetriades and Birke, 2015a):


As there was a demand for a comprehensive Urban Geochemical Mapping Manual by the EU COST  Sub-Urban project (, the EuroGeoSurveys’ Geochemistry Expert Group was commissioned to write it (Demetriades and Birke, 2015b) as part of WG 2.6 “Geochemistry” (



by EurGeol Alecos Demetriades

former Director of the Division of Geochemistry and Environment,

Hellenic Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration, Athens


Demetriades, A., Birke, M., 2015a.  Urban Topsoil Geochemical Mapping Manual (URGE II).  EuroGeoSurveys, Brussels, 52 pp.,

Demetriades, A., Birke, M., 2015b.  Urban Geochemical Mapping Manual:  Sampling, Sample preparation, Laboratory analysis, Quality control check, Statistical processing and Map plotting.  EuroGeoSurveys, Brussels, 162 pp.,

Johnson, C.C., Demetriades, A., Locutura, J., Ottesen, R.T. (Editors), 2011.  Mapping the chemical environment of urban areas.  Wiley-Blackwell, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester, U.K., 616 pp.,


United Nations, 2014.  World Urbanization Prospects:  The 2014 Revision, Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/352). United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, 32 pp.,

As there was a demand for a comprehensive Urban Geochemical Mapping Manual by the EU COST  Sub-Urban project (, the EuroGeoSurveys’ Geochemistry Expert Group was commissioned to write it (Demetriades and Birke, 2015b) as part of WG 2.6 “Geochemistry” (

Keep up to date

SEGH Events

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

  • Characteristics of PM 2.5 , CO 2 and particle-number concentration in mass transit railway carriages in Hong Kong 2017-08-01


    Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and particle-number concentrations (PNC) were monitored in train carriages on seven routes of the mass transit railway in Hong Kong between March and May 2014, using real-time monitoring instruments. The 8-h average PM2.5 levels in carriages on the seven routes ranged from 24.1 to 49.8 µg/m3, higher than levels in Finland and similar to those in New York, and in most cases exceeding the standard set by the World Health Organisation (25 µg/m3). The CO2 concentration ranged from 714 to 1801 ppm on four of the routes, generally exceeding indoor air quality guidelines (1000 ppm over 8 h) and reaching levels as high as those in Beijing. PNC ranged from 1506 to 11,570 particles/cm3, lower than readings in Sydney and higher than readings in Taipei. Correlation analysis indicated that the number of passengers in a given carriage did not affect the PM2.5 concentration or PNC in the carriage. However, a significant positive correlation (p < 0.001, R 2 = 0.834) was observed between passenger numbers and CO2 levels, with each passenger contributing approximately 7.7–9.8 ppm of CO2. The real-time measurements of PM2.5 and PNC varied considerably, rising when carriage doors opened on arrival at a station and when passengers inside the carriage were more active. This suggests that air pollutants outside the train and passenger movements may contribute to PM2.5 levels and PNC. Assessment of the risk associated with PM2.5 exposure revealed that children are most severely affected by PM2.5 pollution, followed in order by juveniles, adults and the elderly. In addition, females were found to be more vulnerable to PM2.5 pollution than males (p < 0.001), and different subway lines were associated with different levels of risk.

  • Comparison of chemical compositions in air particulate matter during summer and winter in Beijing, China 2017-08-01


    The development of industry in Beijing, the capital of China, particularly in last decades, has caused severe environmental pollution including particulate matter (PM), dust–haze, and photochemical smog, which has already caused considerable harm to local ecological environment. Thus, in this study, air particle samples were continuously collected in August and December, 2014. And elements (Si, Al, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Cd, Ba, Pb and Ti) and ions ( \({\text{NO}}_{3}^{-}\) , \({\text{SO}}_{4}^{2-}\) , F, Cl, Na+, K+, Mg2+, Ca2+ and \({\text{NH}}_{4}^{+}\) ) were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer and ion chromatography. According to seasonal changes, discuss the various pollution situations in order to find possible particulate matter sources and then propose appropriate control strategies to local government. The results indicated serious PM and metallic pollution in some sampling days, especially in December. Chemical Mass Balance model revealed central heating activities, road dust and vehicles contribute as main sources, account for 5.84–32.05 % differently to the summer and winter air pollution in 2014.

  • Annual ambient atmospheric mercury speciation measurement from Longjing, a rural site in Taiwan 2017-08-01


    The main purpose of this study was to monitor ambient air particulates and mercury species [RGM, Hg(p), GEM and total mercury] concentrations and dry depositions over rural area at Longjing in central Taiwan during October 2014 to September 2015. In addition, passive air sampler and knife-edge surrogate surface samplers were used to collect the ambient air mercury species concentrations and dry depositions, respectively, in this study. Moreover, direct mercury analyzer was directly used to detect the mercury Hg(p) and RGM concentrations. The result indicated that: (1) The average highest RGM, Hg(p), GEM and total mercury concentrations, and dry depositions were observed in January, prevailing dust storm occurred in winter season was the possible major reason responsible for the above findings. (2) The highest average RGM, Hg(p), GEM and total mercury concentrations, dry depositions and velocities were occurred in winter. This is because that China is the largest atmospheric mercury (Hg) emitter in the world. Its Hg emissions and environmental impacts need to be evaluated. (3) The results indicated that the total mercury ratios of Kaohsiung to that of this study were 5.61. This is because that Kaohsiung has the largest industry density (~60 %) in Taiwan. (4) the USA showed average lower mercury species concentrations when compared to those of the other world countries. The average ratios of China/USA values were 89, 76 and 160 for total mercury, RGM and Hg(p), respectively, during the years of 2000–2012.