Acid rock drainage and climate change

Journal of Geochemical Exploration



Rainfall events cause both increases and decreases in acid and metals concentrations and their loadings from mine wastes, and unmined mineralized areas, into receiving streams based on data from 3 mines sites in the United States and other sites outside the US. Gradual increases in concentrations occur during long dry spells and sudden large increases are observed during the rising limb of the discharge following dry spells (first flush). By the time the discharge peak has occurred, concentrations are usually decreased, often to levels below those of pre-storm conditions and then they slowly rise again during the next dry spell. These dynamic changes in concentrations and loadings are related to the dissolution of soluble salts and the flushing out of waters that were concentrated by evaporation. The underlying processes, pyrite oxidation and host rock dissolution, do not end until the pyrite is fully weathered, which can take hundreds to thousands of years. These observations can be generalized to predict future conditions caused by droughts related to El Ni??o and climate change associated with global warming. Already, the time period for dry summers is lengthening in the western US and rainstorms are further apart and more intense when they happen. Consequently, flushing of inactive or active mine sites and mineralized but unmined sites will cause larger sudden increases in concentrations that will be an ever increasing danger to aquatic life with climate change. Higher average concentrations will be observed during longer low-flow periods. Remediation efforts will have to increase the capacity of engineered designs to deal with more extreme conditions, not average conditions of previous years.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Acid rock drainage and climate change
Series title Journal of Geochemical Exploration
DOI 10.1016/j.gexplo.2008.08.002
Volume 100
Issue 2-3
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 8 p.
First page 97
Last page 104
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