The Drenchwater shale-hosted Zn-Pb-Ag deposit and the immediate vicinity, on the northern flank of the Brooks Range in north-central Alaska, is an ideal example of a naturally low pH system. The two drainages, Drenchwater and False Wager Creeks, which bound the deposit, differ in their acidity and metal contents. Moderately acidic waters with elevated concentrations of metals (pH ??? 4.3, Zn ??? 1400 ??g/L) in the Drenchwater Creek drainage basin are attributed to weathering of an exposed base-metal-rich massive sulfide occurrence. Stream sediment and water chemistry data collected from False Wager Creek suggest that an unexposed base-metal sulfide occurrence may account for the lower pH (2.7-3.1) and very metal-rich waters (up to 2600 ??g/L Zn, ??? 260 ??g/L Cu and ???89 ??g/L Tl) collected at least 2 km upstream of known mineralized exposures. These more acidic conditions produce jarosite, schwertmannite and Fe-hydroxides commonly associated with acid-mine drainage. The high metal concentrations in some water samples from both streams naturally exceed Alaska state regulatory limits for freshwater aquatic life, affirming the importance of establishing base-line conditions in the event of human land development. The studies at the Drenchwater deposit demonstrate that poor water quality can be generated through entirely natural weathering of base-metal occurrences, and, possibly unmineralized black shale.
Additional publication details
The Drenchwater deposit, Alaska: An example of a natural low pH environment resulting from weathering of an undisturbed shale-hosted Zn-Pb-Ag deposit