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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division

Revegetation of Mine Wastes in Arid Environments: Linking Above- and Below-Ground Performance

Sponsored by: U.S. EPA, Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, Technology Innovation and Field Services Division

Archived: Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Hard rock mining results in extensive land disturbance due to economic mineral extraction and residual mine waste deposition. Revegetation accelerates reclamation of land disturbed by mining; however, the revegetation of mine waste sites in arid regions of the world has unique environmental challenges due to low water availability and sensitive ecologies. Further complicating the issue is the myriad of wastes that exist. Here we focus on mine tailings, which exhibit a wide range of pH and metal content, as well as waste rock. In this presentation, we will discuss what we have learned over the last decade about how below-ground metrics are related to and can predict revegetation success under a variety of conditions and revegetation approaches. We will present data from legacy and modern waste sites examining both direct planting into mine waste and cap and plant scenarios. We are using these data to identify below-ground metrics that correlate with vegetation establishment patterns and are easy to measure; and then using the identified metrics to develop guidance for prediction of tipping points for vegetation success or failure. An additional outcome of this work is creation of the University of Arizona Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining which has facilitated a partnership with Arizona copper companies called the Collaborative Industry-University Research Initiative on Revegetation of Mine Wastes. This partnership has enabled both a comprehensive assessment of multiple revegetation strategies under diverse conditions and an open atmosphere wherein results are shared among all partners through annual reports and meetings

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Presenters:

Julia W. NeilsonJulia W. Neilson, University of Arizona (jneilson@email.arizona.edu)
Julia Neilson, Ph.D., is an Associate Research Professor of environmental microbiology in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona. She is also the Director of the University of Arizona Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining (CESM) that develops research and educational initiatives addressing environmental issues related to mining in arid and semiarid environments. In 2013, she initiated the CESM-Industry Revegetation Research Cooperative, a multi-industry research consortium supported by global mining companies. The mine-waste revegetation research initiative is developing tools to monitor and accelerate the reclamation of lands degraded by mining operations to enable the mining industry to develop more environmentally compatible mining practices. Dr. Neilson's research focuses on associations between the functional capacity of the soil microbiome and the sustainability of vegetation in arid ecosystems and lands degraded by anthropogenic disturbance; we seek a mechanistic understanding of interactions between microbial community dynamics and the sustainability of vegetation under marginal environmental conditions.


Raina Maier, Ph.D.Raina Maier, Ph.D., University of Arizona (rmaier@ag.arizona.edu or 520-621-7231)
Raina M. Maier, Ph.D., is a professor of environmental science with a joint appointment in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arizona. She is the Director of the NIEHS University of Arizona Superfund Research Center, which is focused on understanding the health impacts and remediation of mine sites. She co-founded and is Associate Director of the University of Arizona Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining. She has a wealth of experience and passion for education and in particular for promoting inclusion of women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation students. Her research program seeks to understand how we can exploit the soil microbiome and its activities and products to promote bioremediation processes and benefit human health. One major focus is examination of relationships between soil microbial function and diversity and the productivity of disturbed and marginal terrestrial ecosystems with a focus on mining wastes and arid desert ecosystems. A second focus is on microbial surfactants (biosurfactants). These amazing molecules have been the basis for several research discoveries, patents, and even a company in the field of environmental cleanup. Maier developed the textbook "Environmental Microbiology", now in its 3rd edition, and has well over 150 research publications.


Moderators:

Jean BalentJean Balent, U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division (balent.jean@epa.gov or 703-603-9924)
Ms Balent is on the staff of the EPA's Technology Innovation and Field Services Division where she has worked to collect and disseminate hazardous waste remediation and characterization information since 2003. Ms Balent manages the Clean Up Information Network website and actively supports online communication and collaboration resources available to EPA. She formerly worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Engineering Division in the Buffalo District. Ms Balent was also a member of the SUNY-Buffalo Groundwater Research Group where she constructed and tested large scale models of groundwater flow. Ms Balent has also conducted research relating to the Great Lakes, environmental remediation, and brownfields re-development. She holds a Bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from SUNY-Buffalo and a Master's degree in Information Technology from AIU.


Michele MahoneyMichele Mahoney, U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division (mahoney.michele@epa.gov or 703-603-9057)
Michele Mahoney is a Soil Scientist working on issues related to remediation and reuse of contaminated site within EPA's Superfund program. In order to support practitioners, she researches and reports on knowledge related to treatment technologies for mining sites, use of soil amendments for remediation and redevelopment/reuse, ecological revitalization, ecosystem services, phytotechnologies, and urban gardening. Michele develops and delivers training for the world-renown EPA Clean-Up Information Network (www.cluin.org), particularly a Mining Webinar Series, and topics related to Superfund Redevelopment, Ecological Revitalization, Ecosystem Services, and Phytotechnologies. She also creates and manages content development for the EcoTools and Mining pages on CLU-IN.org.

Michele has worked with EPA for 18 years. Prior to her current responsibilities, Michele served the Agency as the lead for food waste composting issues and as an environmental fate and ecological risk assessor for pesticide registration. Michele also has experience as a Contractor for EPA and a Laboratory and Field Researcher.

Michele earned a M.S. in Soil Science from the Washington State University, and a B.S. in Agronomy & Environmental Science from Delaware Valley University.


Webinar Slides and References:

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If you have a suggested topic or idea for a future CLU-IN internet seminar, please contact:

Jean Balent
Technology Integration and Information Branch

PH: (703) 603-9924 | Email: balent.jean@epa.gov
Michael Adam
Technology Integration and Information Branch

PH: (703) 603-9915 | Email: adam.michael@epa.gov