Developing the scientific framework for urban geochemistry

Publication Title

Applied Geochemistry

Publication Date


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urban geochemistry, geochemical change, urbanization, sustainable cities, population growth, urban hydrology




Urban geochemistry is a unique discipline that is distinguished from general geochemistry by the complex infrastructure and intense human activities associated with concentrated population centers. As stated by Thornton (1991) “This subject is concerned with the complex interactions and relationships between chemical elements and their compounds in the urban environment, the influence of past and present human and industrial activities on these, and the impacts or effects of geochemical parameters in urban areas on plant, animal and human health.” Urban areas present special challenges to geochemists attempting to understand geochemical states and fluxes. On the 5–6 of August, 2014, the first meeting of the reorganized Urban Geochemistry Working Group of the International Association of GeoChemistry (IAGC) was held in Columbus, Ohio, United States. Two goals of the meeting were to develop the overall scope, and a general definition of urban geochemistry. Five grand themes were developed: 1) recognizing the urban geochemical signature; 2) recognizing the legacy of altered hydrologic and geochemical cycles in urban environments; 3) measuring the urban geochemical signature; 4) understanding the urban influence on geochemical cycles from the continuous development and erosion of physical infrastructure and episodic perturbations; and 5) relating urban geochemistry to human and environmental health and policy. After synthesizing the discussion of these themes we offer the following perspective on the science of urban geochemistry building on the work of Thornton (1991): Urban geochemistry as a scientific discipline provides valuable information on the chemical composition of environments that support large populations and are critical to human health and well-being. Research into urban geochemistry seeks to 1) elucidate and quantify the sources, transport, transformations, and fate of chemicals in the urban environment, 2) recognize the spatial and temporal (including legacies) variability in these processes, and 3) integrate urban studies into global perspectives on climate change, biogeochemical cycles, and human and ecosystem health. We hope that this discussion will encourage other geochemists to engage in challenges unique to urban systems, as well as provide a framework for the future of urban geochemistry research.


Elsevier Science