Trace metal concentrations in soils and in stream and estuarine sediments from a subtropical urban watershed in Hawaii are presented. The results are placed in the context of historical studies of environmental quality (water, soils, and sediment) in Hawaii to elucidate sources of trace elements and the processes responsible for their distribution. This work builds on earlier studies on sediments of Ala Wai Canal of urban Honolulu by examining spatial and temporal variations in the trace elements throughout the watershed. Natural processes and anthropogenic activity in urban Honolulu contribute to spatial and temporal variations of trace element concentrations throughout the watershed. Enrichment of trace elements in watershed soils result, in some cases, from contributions attributed to the weathering of volcanic rocks, as well as to a more variable anthropogenic input that reflects changes in land use in Honolulu. Varying concentrations of As, Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn in sediments reflect about 60 a of anthropogenic activity in Honolulu. Land use has a strong impact on the spatial distribution and abundance of selected trace elements in soils and stream sediments. As noted in continental US settings, the phasing out of Pb-alkyl fuel additives has decreased Pb inputs to recently deposited estuarine sediments. Yet, a substantial historical anthropogenic Pb inventory remains in soils of the watershed and erosion of surface soils continues to contribute to its enrichment in estuarine sediments. Concentrations of other elements (e.g., Cu, Zn, Cd), however, have not decreased with time, suggesting continued active inputs. Concentrations of Ba, Co, Cr, Ni, V and U, although elevated in some cases, typically reflect greater proportions attributed to natural sources rather than anthropogenic input. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.