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Geochemical, Hydrologic, and Modeling Methods for Resolving Natural and Anthropogenic Sources of Metals from Weathering of Mineral Deposits: David Borrok


Project Title: Geochemical, Hydrologic, and Modeling Methods for Resolving Natural and Anthropogenic Sources of Metals from Weathering of Mineral Deposits
Mendenhall Fellow: David Borrok, (303) 236 1426, dborrok@usgs.gov
Duty Station: Denver, CO
Start Date: October 1, 2005
Education: Ph.D., Geochemistry, University of Notre Dame, 2005
Research Advisor: Rich Wanty, (303) 236 1819, rwanty@usgs.gov
  David Borrok


Project Summary:

Mining activities expose sulfide-bearing ores at the Earth’s surface in the form of mine tailings, open workings, and processing wastes.  These sulfide minerals rapidly oxidize, resulting in the release of heavy metals and in the acidification of surface waters.  Toxic heavy metals can enter the food chain, causing ecological and often human health effects.  However, because mining activities are most often associated with geologic settings that contain naturally high concentrations of sulfide minerals, it is difficult to distinguish between anthropogenic and natural heavy metal contamination in these areas.  Finding ways to separate anthropogenic and natural contamination is critical for developing remediation strategies.  For example, it may be unrealistic to treat surface waters to remove heavy metals below the baseline concentrations of the metals defined by natural influxes.  The primary objective of this study is to utilize specialized hydrological, geochemical, and modeling techniques to develop methods for distinguishing between anthropogenic and natural heavy metal contamination in surface waters. 

Novel geochemical techniques for this project include the use of stable Cu, Fe, and Zn isotopes to fingerprint natural and anthropogenic metal source areas.  These isotopes, as well as other geochemical and hydrological parameters, will be tracked over an entire watershed in an attempt to separate anthropogenic from natural heavy metal inputs.

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Last modified: 16:08:26 Thu 13 Dec 2012