Imaging Spectroscopy: A New Screening Tool for Mapping Acidic Mine Waste
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Jan 1, 2000
Imaging spectroscopy is a relatively new remote sensing tool that provides a rapid method to screen entire mining districts for potential sources of surface acid drainage. An imaging spectrometer known as the Airborne Visible/InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) measures light reflected from the surface in 224 spectral channels from 0.4 - 2.5 µm. Spectral data from this instrument were used to evaluate mine waste at the California Gulch Superfluid Site near Leadville, Colorado. Here, the process of pyrite oxidation at the surface produces acidic water that is gradually neutralized as it drains away from mine waste, depositing a central jarosite zone surrounded by a jarosite + goethite zone, in turn surrounded by a goethite zone with a discontinuous hematite rim zone. Leaching tests show that pH is most acidic in the jarosite and jarosite + goethite zones and is near-neutral in the goethite zone. Measurements indicate that metals leach from minerals and amorphous materials in the jarosite + goethite and jarosite zones at concentrations 10 - 50 times higher than from goethite zone minerals. Goethite zones that fully encircle mine waste may indicate some attenuation of leachate metals and thus reduced metal loading to streams. The potential for impact by acidic drainage is highest where streams intersect the jarosite and jarosite + goethite zones. In these areas, metal-rich acidic dace runoff may flow directly into streams. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates (U.S. EPA, 1998) that mineral maps made from AVIRIS data at Leadville have accelerated remediation efforts by two years and saved over $2 million in cleanup costs.