In order to determine the key influencing factors, risk areas, and source pathways of heavy metals in the sediment of the Yellow River, 37 samples were collected in the surface sediment (0–5 cm) of the Inner Mongolia section of the Yellow River main stream for the determination of heavy metals copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), zinc (Zn), chromium (Cr), lead (Pb), and cadmium (Cd). Based on the geographical detector model (GDM) and ArcGIS 10.2 software, this paper selected 6 heavy metals and 15 influencing factors, including 8 natural factors and 7 anthropogenic factors, to detect key influencing factors, risk areas, and sources of heavy metals. The results showed that: (1) The average contents of heavy metals Cr and Cd in the sediments exceeded the average value in soil, the world average concentration in the shales, and the first-level standard of soil environmental quality in China, and they were the main risk metals; (2) Vegetation coverage (VC) was the largest influencing factor for the spatial distribution of heavy metals in the sediment, followed by per capita income (PI), and land use type (LUT) and road network density (RD) were smaller influencing factors. The interactions of the factors were enhanced; (3) The Wuhai section for a risk area was mainly polluted by Cd and Pb, which were caused by atmospheric deposition and industrial emission. The Baotou section for a risk area was mainly polluted by Cr, which mainly originated from river transportation and industrial discharge. The conclusions can provide a scientific basis for the environmental protection and management of the different areas in the Inner Mongolia section of the Yellow River.
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