Watershed Contamination from Metal and Uranium Mining
scientists collecting soil samples inside the perimeter fence at the Canyon Mine, Arizona. The mine's headframe and mine workshop are visible in the background. Photo Credit: Kit MacDonald, U.S. Forest Service.
Watersheds affected by active and/or abandoned hard rock mining (HRM) often have hundreds of mining-related sites with little information on their relative significance as sources of metals contamination and acid mine drainage. Furthermore, natural weathering of the geologic deposits, which are sought out for metal deposits, can be a source of contamination even in the absence of mining activities. The nature of such distributed natural and anthropogenic sources makes a traditional site by site cleanup approach grossly inefficient and likely ineffective.
A USGS scientist collects a water sample for analysis of mineral particles know as colloids. Toxic metals (such as copper in excess) bind to the particles, which are then ingested by aquatic animals. Photo credit: Daniel Cain, USGS
The overall goal of HRM research is to provide improved information and tools to support decisions related to management, risk assessment, remediation planning, and mitigation of the anthropogenic effects of mine drainage on the surrounding watersheds and ecosystems. The principal research objectives are to a) characterize hydrologic and biogeochemical processes that affect dispersal of metals and associated contaminants and b) describe contaminant pathways to organisms. Current research expands on previous Toxic Substances Hydrology (Toxics) Program hard rock research by including investigations across broader temporal and spatial scales and by integrating research on bioaccumulation and the effects of metal contamination on organisms with investigations on biogeochemical and hydrologic processes that affect transport and fate of metals in streams and near-stream ground-water systems. Two guiding principles of the research are (1) interdisciplinary coordination to integrate all factors and processes that control the affects of HRM on watersheds and ecosystems from source to receptors, and (2) synthesis of interdisciplinary knowledge across scales to make relevant to the practical management decision making, including liaison with land management agencies for technology transfer and effective identification of science needs.
Hard Rock Mining Related Science Feature Articles
Other Program Hard Rock Mining Research
Hard Rock Mining Research Publications
- Informing future decision-making on uranium mining--A coordinated approach to monitor and assess potential environmental impacts from uranium exploration and mining on federal lands in the Grand Canyon region, Arizona: Tillman, F.D., Hinck, J.E., Van Gosen, B.S., and Walton-Day, K., (IN PRESS).
- Isotopic composition of inorganic mercury and methylmercury downstream of a historical gold mining region: Donovan, P.M., Blum, J.D., Singer, M.B., Marvin-Dipasquale, M., and Tsui, M.T.K., 2016, Environmental Science and Technology, v. 50, no. 4, p. 1691-1702, doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b04413.
- Biogeochemical controls of uranium bioavailability from the dissolved phase in natural freshwaters: Croteau, M.-N., Fuller, C.C., Cain, D.J., Campbell, K.M., and Aiken, G., 2016, Environmental Science and Technology, v. 50, no. 15, p. 8120-8127, doi:10.1021/acs.est.6b02406.
- Prediction of fish and sediment mercury in streams using landscape variables and historical mining: Alpers, C.N., Yee, J.L., Ackerman, J.T., Orlando, J.L., Slotton, D.G., and Marvin-DiPasquale, M.C., 2016, Science of the Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.05.088 (In Press, Corrected Proof).
- Establishing a pre-mining geochemical baseline at a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park, USA: Naftz, D., and Walton-Day, K., 2016, Geoderma Regional, v. 7, no. 1, p. 76-92, doi:10.1016/j.geodrs.2016.01.004.
- Biogeochemical aspects of uranium mineralization, mining, milling, and remediation: Campbell, K.M., Gallegos, T.J., and Landa, E.R., 2014, Applied Geochemistry, v. 57, p. 206-235, doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2014.07.022.
- Non-invasive flow path characterization in a mining-impacted wetland: Bethune, J., Randell, J., Runkel, R.L., and Singha, K., 2015, Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, v. 183, p. 29-39, doi:10.1016/j.jconhyd.2015.10.002.
- Hydrogeochemical effects of a bulkhead in the Dinero mine tunnel, Sugar Loaf mining district, near Leadville, Colorado: Walton-Day, K., and Mills, T.J., 2015, Applied Geochemistry, doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2015.03.002 (In Press, Corrected Proof).
- On the use of rhodamine WT for the characterization of stream hydrodynamics and transient storage: Runkel, R.L., 2015, Water Resources Research, v. 51, no. 8, p. 6125-6142, doi:10.1002/2015WR017201.
- Persistent U(IV) and U(VI) following in-situ recovery (ISR) mining of a sandstone uranium deposit, Wyoming, USA: Gallegos, T.J., Campbell, K.M., Zielinski, R.A., Reimus, P.W., Clay, J.T., Janot, N., J. R. Bargar, and Benzel, W.M., 2015, Applied Geochemistry, v. 63, p. 222-234, doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2015.08.017.
- Mercury distribution and mobility at the abandoned Puhipuhi mercury mine, Northland, New Zealand: Gionfriddo, C.M., Ogorek, J.M., Butcher, M., Krabbenhoft, D.P., and Moreau, J.W., 2015, New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, v. 58, no. 1, p. 78-87, doi:10.1080/00288306.2014.979840.
Links to other USGS Information on Hard Rock Mining Contamination