Environmental Geochemistry

Environmental Geochemistry

Environmental Geochemistry

Accurate geochemical characterisation of mine and mineral processing waste and mine waters is key to successful mine environmental management, particularly in the broader context of environmental sustainability. Through field monitoring, laboratory experiments and modelling, research in Environmental Geochemistry at CMLR follows the geochemical cycles of heavy metals, acids, metalloids (e.g. arsenic) and salts. CMLR also investigates the natural processes that may degrade the quality of surface and ground waters, natural soils and stream sediments. It is important to quantify the extent of the potential effects of these processes, for optimum rehabilitation and closure outcomes.

Understanding and predicting the source, transformation and fate of contaminants is a crucial component when managing land impacted by mining activities

CMLR has a broad range of research work being undertaken in the area of Environmental Geochemistry, including cover design and mine water treatment. CMLR has access to state-of-the-art facilities including geochemistry and stable isotope laboratories and MLA, for environmental mineralogy research. Work has been ongoing across a number of sites both nationally and internationally, including north-west Queensland (Mount Leyshon, Woodcutters, Northparkes and Mount Isa), the Bowen Basin in central Queensland, the Hunter Valley in central NSW and in Freeport, Indonesia.

Research areas include:

  • Integrated Tailings Management Strategies (Designer Tailings)
  • Development of purpose-fit kinetic leaching procedures for the prediction of AMD
  • Diffused Gradients in Thin Films (DGTs) and direct measurement of metal species using ion selective electrodes
    These technologies help develop novel methodologies for more realistic risk assessments that are based on measuring bioavailable fractions of
    contaminants at very low concentrations
  • Natural attenuation strategies and passive treatment options that involve assessing and engineering secondary mineralisation in mine wastes
    This enables slow, regulated, naturally attenuated release of both acid and stored toxic metals/metalloids at rates that minimise environmental impact
  • Spatial geochemistry and detection of metal anomalies in geochemical provinces undertaken in collaboration with the spatial ecology group,
    using GIS, high resolution imagery and geochemical surveys

Examples of our international collaborations include:

  • Options for reuse, recycling and reprocessing of mine residues, and mapping of geochemical pathways of associated deleterious elements (Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources)
  • Environmental Geochemistry of Abandoned Mines in the Puno Region of Peru – to guide strategic planning for regional development and legacy site management (Peruvian National Institute of Geology, Mining and Metallurgy)