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Sediment and water quality and contaminant migration in the River Clyde

Chemical contamination of the ground is one of the legacies of past industrialisation. Such chemical substances can be hazardous for people and the environment, including groundwater. Understanding the processes and environmental impacts of urbanisation can not only help to improve the health and well-being of the people and benefit the environment, but will also help to ensure the safer and more sustainable use – and potentially redevelopment - of such areas.

Glasgow is a city whose environment has been enormously affected by its industrial past. Subsurface coal mining, shipbuilding, textile, paper and engineering industries have left their mark on Glasgow’s environment and that of the surrounding catchment of the river Clyde. The natural environment where these industrial contaminants are deposited is complex: understanding the interactions of nature and industry is an essential step in developing solutions.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) is undertaking a strategic geochemical survey of the UK, known as G-BASE (Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment) and is assessing estuarine contamination in the UK. As part of these projects and in collaboration with Glasgow City Council (GCC) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), stream sediment, soil and water samples have been collected from the estuary and tributaries of the river Clyde to assess the contamination associated with Glasgow’s wide-spread industrial legacy.

Surveys of contamination in the estuary are complete and these geochemical datasets are now available for analysis in conjunction with those from the Clyde tributaries and Glasgow urban area. The project will attempt to understand what these three geochemical datasets can tell us about the contamination of the area, and what influences the way that the contaminants move along the river system. Using computer mapping (Geographical Information System - GIS) to analyse these data, urban contaminant levels can be placed in the context of natural background variation and of the evolution of the estuary. These datasets provide an excellent test case for assessing urban impacts on environmental quality. Only by fully understanding these processes can effective management of contaminated land issues be made possible for the benefit of present and future generations.