Characterization of transport pathways of mining-related contaminants in water is a priority identified by the GCSP (PDF). The question of transport via groundwater is difficult to address, however, because of the scarcity of monitoring wells in the region and the costs and difficulty associated with drilling to deep aquifers. Laboratory studies will be conducted that will evaluate the potential mobility of uranium and trace metals derived from breccia pipe ores in groundwater. Experiments will expose water to different types of ore and different types of aquifer-hosting rock in sequence. The experiments will show how concentrations of uranium and trace metals can increase when water is exposed to ore, and then how those concentrations change when the water moves away from ore into aquifer-hosting rock. Geochemical modeling by computer simulations will be used to better understand the processes happening during the experiments that may also happen in the subsurface.
Questions this study could help answer
Do contaminants get sorbed on mineral surfaces? Will contaminants become incorporated into new minerals?
What are the chemical conditions that control contaminant mobility?
Answering these questions will help address the overarching question of how groundwater might be a pathway for mining-related contaminants.