Use of tracer injections and synoptic sampling to measure metal loading from acid mine drainage

Fact Sheet 245-96




Thousands of abandoned and inactive mines are located in environmentally sensitive mountain watersheds. Cost-effective remediation of the effects of metals from mining in these watersheds requires knowledge of the most significant sources of metals. The significance of a given source depends on the toxicity of a particular metal, how much of the metal enters the stream, and whether or not the metal remains in the stream in a toxic form. This discussion deals with accounting for how much metal enters the stream and whether it stays in the stream. The amount of metal entering the stream is called the mass loading and is calculated as the product of metal concentration and stream discharge. The overall effect of high metal concentrations on streams and aquatic organisms is unclear without discharge measurements. A traditional discharge measurement is obtained by dividing a stream into small sections and measuring the cross-sectional area and the average water velocity in each section. Summing the measurements of all the sections gives the discharge of the entire stream. This method works well where the channel bottom and banks are smooth. In mountain streams, however, the stream bottom typically is covered with cobbles, allowing much of the water to flow through the cobbles of the streambed where it cannot be measured by a flow meter (fig. 1). Thus, accurate discharge measurements are difficult to obtain in mountain streams, even under the best of conditions.

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Use of tracer injections and synoptic sampling to measure metal loading from acid mine drainage
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Fact Sheet
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U.S. Geological Survey,
1 sheet : ill. ; 43 x 28 cm. folded to 22 x 28 cm. ill. ;