Noril'sk, a major center for mining and smelting of high-sulphur nickel-copper ores, is considered one of the most polluted regions on this planet. Yet, long-term data on limnological changes in nearby lakes are lacking. Paleolimnological approaches were used to compare pre-industrial diatom assemblages with recent assemblages in 17 Noril'sk-area lakes in order to assess the effects of the metallurgical operations. Relative to other regions of intense mining and smelting activities, the Noril'sk diatom assemblages have experienced relatively little change sincepre-industrial times. The lakes are well protected against the effects of acidification due to their strong buffering capacities as a result of the surrounding bedrock and overlying glacial deposits. The alkaline nature of the lakes appears to have suppressed the environmental availability of metals, as most likely formed insoluble metallic complexes andbecame incorporated into the lake sediments. Changes between recent and pre-industrial diatom assemblages were recorded for some lakes; however, the taxa contributing to the greatest amount of this change were small, benthic Fragilaria species, and not acid and metal-tolerant taxa, as observed in similarly impacted regions. Emissions from mining activities resulting in watershed disturbances, such as increased erosion, likely accounted for shifts in these species over time.
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