Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center

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Development of Geoenvironmental Models for Mineral Deposits

The environmental effects of mineral deposits on watersheds are a complex and poorly understood function of local and regional geology and hydrology, deposit type, climate, and the ecosystem of the watershed. If the deposits are developed, mining techniques, methods of ore processing and tailings disposal, and metal mobility from dumps and tailings also contribute to the environmental signature. All of these processes contribute to the widely observed phenomenon that the environmental "footprint" of a mineral deposit is much larger than the deposit itself. While the spatial extent of a mineral deposit can be determined with some certainty by exploration drilling, mining, and other methods, the spatial (and temporal) extent of the environmental effects (both natural and anthropogenic) of that deposit depend on a number of processes and properties of the system. These include the weathering behavior and weathering rates of minerals in the deposit and surrounding altered areas, the climatic and hydrologic setting, interactions between ground water and surface water, etc. Understanding these processes in the context of the spatial and temporal scales within which they occur leads to an understanding of the environmental impact of mineral deposits. This project advances the philosophical approach and protocols to characterizing the environmental behavior of mineral deposit types and host lithologic terranes. Ultimately, this project will provide fundamental building blocks for the development of environmental assessment protocols at local and regional scales, which are an expressed need of Federal land-use planning agencies. This project also addresses issues of natural versus anthropogenic geochemical effects attributable to mineral deposits, whether mined or not.

This Project (1) studies the environmental behavior of selected mineral deposit types in various climatic settings, (2) investigates metal mobility and spatial scale of the environmental effects of mineral deposits, (3) conducts topical studies on metal transport, fate, and biological uptake, (4) and studies the influence of bedrock composition on geochemistry of natural waters in headwater regions. The scope of the geoenvironmental models will include the deposit-scale to the more regional watershed-scale and will incorporate critical variables such as climate, hydrologic setting, mining practices, and tailings disposal methods. The process-oriented approach of these studies should facilitate the development of a predictive capability for the environmental behavior of mineral deposits, which would be the focus of future projects.

Project Chiefs:

Richard Wanty Box 25046 MS 964
Denver, CO 80225
(303) 236-1819
rwanty@usgs.gov
Richard Sanzolone, retired    

Products

Products are listed according to task:

Tasks Title
Task 1 Comparative environmental behavior of mineral deposits in a variety of climatic settings
Task 2 Scale of metal mobility in building geoenvironmental mineral deposit models
Task 3 Topical studies on metal transport and fate
Task 4 Influence of bedrock composition on geochemistry of natural waters and soils in headwater regions

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Task 1 - Comparative environmental behavior of mineral deposits in a variety of climatic settings

Presentations

  • Tuttle, M.L., Wanty, R.B., and Berger, B.R., 2000, Environmental behavior of two molybdenum porphyry systems, presented in a short course entitled, "Geoenvironmental analysis of ore deposits," at the 5th International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage, 21 May, 2000.

Posters

  • Wanty, R.B., Berger, B.R., and Tuttle, M.L., Geologic-structure control of fracture-dominated ground-water flow at a variety of spatial scales. EPS Poster. (PDF file, 31.9 MB)
  • Berger, B.R., Wanty, R.B., and Tuttle M.L., Scale versus detail in water-rock investigations: Intergrating geologic models with hydrogeochemical studies. WRI poster. (PDF file, 4 MB)

Reports

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Task 2 - Scale of metal mobility in building geoenvironmental mineral deposit models

Reports

  • Nash, J.T., and Desborough, G., 2000, Cost-effective hydrogeochemical methods to characterize mining areas: ICARD 2000 Proceedings of the Fifth International conference on Acid Rock Drainage, Denver, CO, p. 72.
  • Nash, J. Thomas, 2002, Hydrogeochemical investigations of historic mining districts, Central Western Slope, Colorado, including influences on surface water quality: U.S. Geological Survey Digital Data Series DDS-73 (CD-ROM).

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Task 3 - Topical studies on metal transport and fate

Reports

  • Balistrieri, L.S., Tempel, R.N., Stillings, L.L., Shevenell, L.A., and Lengke, M.F., 2001, Predicting water quality in pit lake waters: A case study of Dexter Pit Lake, Tuscarora, Nevada, in Mining Impacted Pit Lakes 2000 Workshop Proceedings: A Mulitmedia CD Presentation, EPA/625/C-00/004.
  • Balistrieri, L.S., Tempel, R.N., and Stillings, L.L., 2000, Processes affecting water quality in pit lakes: A case study in Dexter Pit Lake, Tuscarora, NV [abs.]: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Program, vol. 32, no. 7, p. 344. View Balistrieri GSA abstract.
  • Gough, L.P., Ridley, W.I., Witte, K., Ashley, R.P., and Koenig, A.E., 2001, Dendrochemical (tree ring) assessment of element uptake near an abandoned mine site in California using laser ablation ICP-mass spectrometry [abs.]: Przeglad Geologiczny (Polish Geological Review), vol. 49, p. 991.
  • Lengke, M.F., Tempel, R.N., Stillings, L.L., and Balistrieri, L.S., 2000, Wall rock mineralogy and geochemistry of Dexter Pit, Elko County, Nevada: ICARD 2000 Proceedings from the Fifth International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage, Denver, CO, Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc., pp. 319-325.
  • Malem, F., Wanty, R.B., Viellenave, J.H., and Fontana, J.V., 2000, Probe sampling and geophysics applied to ground water evaluation of mine dumps, in Tailings and Mine Waste 2000: AA Balkema, Rotterdam, pp. 223-230.
  • Ridley, W.I., 2000, The ICP-MS laser microprobe: a new geochemical tool: Trends in Geochemistry, vol. 1, pp. 1-14.
  • Ridley, W.I., Aruscavage, P.J., and Wilson, S.A., 2000, The laser ablation ICP-MS trace element microprobe: Methods and technique development for analysis of geologic and biologic material, with examples: Geoanalysis 2000, 4th International Conference on the Analysis of Geological and Environmental Materials, Pont a Mousson, France.
  • Ridley, W.I., Berger, B.R., Aruscavage, P.J., and Lichte, F.E., 2001, Environmental consequences of the distribution of trace metals in primary and secondary phasesfrom skarn and vein deposits in the Patagonia Mountains, Arizona, in Cidu, R., ed., Water-Rock Interaction 2001, Swets and Zeitlinger, Lisse, Netherlands, pp. 1269-1272.
  • Stillings, L.L., Balistrieri, L.S., Tempel, R.N., Lengke, M.F., and Shevenell, L.A., 2001, Chemistry of particulates and colloids in Dexter Pit Lake, Elko County, Nevada, USA, in Mining Impacted Pit Lakes 2000 Workshop Proceedings: A Multimedia CD Presentation, EPA/625/C-00/004.
  • Tempel, R.N., Balistrieri, L.S., Lengke, M.F., Shevenell, L.A., and Stillings, L.L., 2000a, Geochemical modeling methods of predicting trace element concentrations in Dexter Pit Lake, Elko County, Nevada, in ICARD 2000 Proceedings from the Fifth International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage, Denver, CO, Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc., pp. 327-336.
  • Tempel, R.N., Balistrieri, L.S., and Stillings, L.L., 2000b, Geochemical modeling of water chemistry in a mine pit lake: Dexter Pit Lake, Tuscarora, NV [abs.]: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Program, vol. 32, no. 7, p. 344. View Tempel GSA abstract.
  • Witte, K., 2001, Use of Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) as a Biological Monitor of Changes in the Historic Metals Load in a Mining Impacted Watershed: Waldorf, Colorado: M.S. Thesis, Colorado School of Mines, 263 pp.
  • Witte, K., Ridley, W.I., Wanty, R.B. and Harrison, W.J., 2000, Metals cycling in an alpine wetland affected by acid mine drainage. AML Reclamation 2000, Society of Abandoned Mine Land Programs, Steamboat Springs (abstract).

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Task 4 - Influence of bedrock composition on geochemistry of natural waters and soils in headwater regions

Reports

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Mineral Resources Program
Eastern Central GMEG Alaska Minerals Information Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Spatial Data