Abandoned hard-rock mines can be a significant source of acid mine drainage (AMD) and toxic metal pollution to watersheds. In Colorado, USA, abandoned mines are often located in remote, high elevation areas that are snowbound for 7–8 months of the year. The difficulty in accessing these remote sites, especially during winter, creates challenging water sampling problems and major hydrologic and toxic metal loading events are often under sampled. Currently available automated water samplers are not well suited for sampling remote snowbound areas so the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed a new water sampler, the MiniSipper, to provide long-duration, high-resolution water sampling in remote areas. The MiniSipper is a small, portable sampler that uses gas bubbles to separate up to 250 five milliliter acidified samples in a long tubing coil. The MiniSipper operates for over 8 months unattended in water under snow/ice, reduces field work costs, and greatly increases sampling resolution, especially during inaccessible times. MiniSippers were deployed in support of an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) project evaluating acid mine drainage inputs from the Pennsylvania Mine to the Snake River watershed in Summit County, CO, USA. MiniSipper metal results agree within 10% of EPA-USGS hand collected grab sample results. Our high-resolution results reveal very strong correlations (R2 > 0.9) between potentially toxic metals (Cd, Cu, and Zn) and specific conductivity at the Pennsylvania Mine site. The large number of samples collected by the MiniSipper over the entire water year provides a detailed look at the effects of major hydrologic events such as snowmelt runoff and rainstorms on metal loading from the Pennsylvania Mine. MiniSipper results will help guide EPA sampling strategy and remediation efforts in the Snake River watershed.
Additional publication details
MiniSipper: A new in situ water sampler for high-resolution, long-duration acid mine drainage monitoring
Science of the Total Environment
Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center