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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (10): 1086-1098    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0027-7
Research article     
Contents and spatial distribution patterns of heavy metals in the hinterland of the Tengger Desert, China
WANG Zhao1,*(), WEI Junjie1,2,*(), PENG Wenbin3, ZHANG Rui4, ZHANG Haobo5
1College of Geographical Sciences, Shanxi Normal University, Taiyuan 030031, China
2School of Geographical Sciences, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, China
3College of Tourism and Resource Environment, Zaozhuang University, Zaozhuang 277160, China
4School of Geography, Geomatics, and Planning, Jiangsu Normal University, Xuzhou 221116, China
5Key Laboratory of Western China's Environmental Systems (Ministry of Education), College of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
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The desert in northern China is one of important sources of loess and one significant source of material for sandstorms in Asia. The sand/dust that is transported from desert when sandstorms occur can destroy the growth of crops, cause serious losses and great harm to the economic construction and life safety, and cause natural environment pollution. Hence, it is very important to deepen the research into heavy metals in surface deposits at vulnerable ecological region of arid land of northern China to guide local industrial and agricultural development and improve environmental protection. In this research, 10 heavy metal elements (Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb, and Th) were tested and analyzed in 33 soil sample sites collected from the hinterland of the Tengger Desert, northern China. The results showed that the average abundance of Th exceeded its background soil value of China by more than 5.2 times, which suggests that the Tengger Desert is polluted by Th. In addition, based on principal component analysis, spatial differentiation, and correlation analysis, we identified the source of element with a coefficient of variation in abundance of greater than 0.5 or exceeding the background soil value of China. Principal component analysis and correlation analysis showed that the sources of heavy metals of Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, and Cd were similar, while those of Th and Zn were different. Moreover, based on the contents and spatial distribution characteristics of those heavy metal elements, we found that the formation of heavy metal elements enrichment areas is caused by industrial pollution, development of irrigated agricultural, geological, and geomorphic conditions, and the sedimentary environment in the study area. Our result can provide information on the environmental background values of soils in the hinterland of the Tengger Desert.

Background value of Chinaa(mg/kg)

Key wordsTengger Desert      terrestrial deposit      environmental pollution      industrial and agricultural production      natural factor     
Received: 19 April 2022      Published: 31 October 2022
Fund:  Basic Research Projects of Shanxi Province(20210302124111);Graduate Education Innovation Planning Project of Shanxi Province(2021YJJG145);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41807427);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41907370)
Corresponding Authors: WANG Zhao, WEI Junjie     E-mail:;
Cite this article:

WANG Zhao, WEI Junjie, PENG Wenbin, ZHANG Rui, ZHANG Haobo. Contents and spatial distribution patterns of heavy metals in the hinterland of the Tengger Desert, China. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(10): 1086-1098.

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Fig. 1 Location and sample sites of the study area. The map is referenced from Li et al. (2014), and the wind regime is referenced from Yang et al. (2014).
Name of
sample site
Latitude (N) Longitude (E) Altitude
Name of sample site Latitude (N) Longitude (E) Altitude (m)
TD-1 38°48'35.36” 102°52'46.51” 1347 TD-18 38°09'22.65” 103°31'56.87” 1472
TD-2 39°13'06.25” 102°37'24.12” 1364 TD-19 38°23'11.03” 103°16'41.02” 1420
TD-3 39°27'47.37” 102°51'28.01” 1272 TD-20 39°08'55.73” 103°39'22.20” 1304
TD-4 40°04'15.01” 103°55'29.24” 1399 TD-21 37°59'07.98” 103°21'49.38” 1534
TD-5 40°07'05.43” 104°03'48.21” 1409 TD-22 37°50'42.97” 103°25'48.80” 1631
TD-6 39°47'35.29″ 104°25'03.59″ 1373 TD-23 37°47'25.91” 103°37'45.85” 1629
TD-7 39°31'45.81″ 104°49'43.09″ 1167 TD-24 37°41'59.14” 103°45'49.11” 1625
TD-8 39°19'12.75″ 104°55'06.88″ 1220 TD-25 37°45'39.98” 104°56'00.25” 1381
TD-9 38°59'43.56″ 105°21'03.46″ 1261 TD-26 37°51'50.78” 104°43'30.52” 1455
TD-10 38°45'27.92″ 105°21'30.87″ 1315 TD-27 38°02'36.40” 104°36'09.91” 1474
TD-11 38°41'22.11″ 105°08'37.13” 1323 TD-28 38°15′39.84” 104°40′51.49” 1337
TD-12 38°31'32.13″ 104°58'30.76″ 1318 TD-29 38°14'45.59” 104°20'28.02” 1372
TD-13 38°22'05.03″ 104°35'18.00″ 1334 TD-30 38°05'50.38” 104°23'09.96” 1417
TD-14 38°16'24.35″ 104°10'42.04″ 1382 TD-31 37°55'57.59” 104°32'37.71” 1445
TD-15 38°17'58.31″ 103°48'03.77″ 1414 TD-32 37°41'02.90” 104°39'22.97” 1467
TD-16 38°20'23.46″ 103°43'25.52″ 1401 TD-33 37°34'33.78” 105°01'16.27” 1277
TD-17 38°22'25.48″ 103°26'46.01″ 1411
Table 1 Information of sample sites in the Tengger Desert
Element Content range
deviation (SD) (mg/kg)
Coefficient of variation (CV) Background value of Chinaa
Background value of Hexi Corridorb (mg/kg)
Cr 0.00-0.08 0.02 0.02 0.76 61.00 57.82
Mn 0.04-0.47 0.17 0.09 0.54 583.00 530.66
Fe 179.24-2254.08 960.75 497.64 0.52 29,400.00 -
Co 0.000-0.010 0.003 0.002 0.540 12.700 62.670
Ni 0.00-0.03 0.01 0.01 0.63 26.90 24.45
Cu 0.000-0.010 0.006 0.003 0.520 22.600 21.650
Zn 0.01-0.08 0.02 0.01 0.62 74.20 47.84
Cd 0.0000-0.0004 0.0002 0.0001 0.5000 0.1000 -
Pb 0.000-0.010 0.010 0.002 0.240 26.000 1.000
Th 24.19-208.32 71.79 47.93 0.67 13.80 -
Table 2 Heavy metals abundance in the Tengger Desert
Fig. 2 Contour maps showing the spatial distribution of the abundance of 9 heavy metal elements in the Tengger Desert. The red arrow direction is from low-value to high-value. (a), Cr; (b), Mn; (c), Fe; (d), Co; (e), Ni; (f), Cu; (g), Cd; (h), Zn; (i), Th.
Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Cd Th
Cr 1.00
Mn 0.90** 1.00
Fe 0.86** 0.97** 1.00
Co 0.89** 0.98** 0.99** 1.00
Ni 0.95** 0.93** 0.93** 0.96** 1.00
Cu 0.86** 0.86** 0.83** 0.88** 0.91** 1.00
Zn 0.38* 0.36* 0.28 0.33 0.36* 0.36* 1.00
Cd 0.80** 0.88** 0.89** 0.86** 0.82** 0.76** 0.28 1.00
Th 0.68** 0.69** 0.55** 0.58** 0.56** 0.52** 0.21 0.65** 1.00
Table 3 Pearson correlation coefficients between 9 heavy metals abundance in the Tengger Desert (n=33)
Fig. 3 Results of principal components analysis for the heavy metals. On each axis, the percentage of variance explained in bracket by the principal components (PCs).
Element PC1 (77.0%) PC2 (9.8%) PC3 (6.8%)
Cr 0.36 0.02 0.05
Mn 0.37 -0.05 0.01
Fe 0.36 -0.11 -0.21
Co 0.37 -0.06 -0.20
Ni 0.37 -0.00 -0.21
Cu 0.34 0.03 -0.22
Zn 0.15 0.97 0.13
Cd 0.34 -0.13 0.08
Th 0.26 -0.16 0.89
Table 4 Factor loadings of the 9 elements in the Tengger Desert
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