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 GEP  Vol.7 No.3 , March 2019
Aqueous Geochemistry and Limnology of the Sleeper Pit Lake, Nevada, USA: Evidence for Long-Term Subaqueous Solute Generation in Mine Pit Lakes
Abstract: Predictive geochemical and limnologic modeling of pit lakes is an important aspect of modern mine-site permitting. One of the key assumptions of many predictive pit-lake models is that open-pit high walls and in-pit backfill become geochemically unreactive once submerged by the filling pit lake. Existing pit lakes provide useful data to test this assumption. The Sleeper pit lake (northwestern Nevada, USA) is approaching hydrologic equilibrium and contains good-quality water that generally meets regulatory requirements for pit lakes. Despite the overall stable geochemical composition, seasonal trends in the hypolimnion indicate the generation of dissolved metals associated with the ore deposit (e.g., Mn and Zn) and cyclical variations in pH. This study applies mass balance, analysis of subaqueous pyrite oxidation, and trends in solute concentrations to evaluate the potential causes of long-term solute generation in the hypolimnion of the Sleeper pit lake. Three separate conceptual models (subaqueous pyrite oxidation; redox reactions; and diffusion of solutes from a permanently stratified bottom layer) were tested against the high-quality dataset available for the pit lake. Evaluation of the monitoring dataset for the pit lake indicates that the Sleeper pit lake has variable limnologic behavior, wherein the lake is consistently stratified (meromictic) in some years, while it undergoes full mixing (holomixis) in other time periods. Comparison of the data with the three conceptual models illustrates that none of these models can be completely implicated as causing the seasonal geochemical variations in the bottom of the pit lake, but that a combination of the processes is likely partially responsible. Additional data collection including sediment cores and in-situ pore-water analysis would aid in understanding geochemical processes occurring over time.
Cite this paper: Newman, C. , Cluff, T. , Gray, T. and Beale, G. (2019) Aqueous Geochemistry and Limnology of the Sleeper Pit Lake, Nevada, USA: Evidence for Long-Term Subaqueous Solute Generation in Mine Pit Lakes. Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection, 7, 64-81. doi: 10.4236/gep.2019.73004.
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