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TitleUsing diatom assemblages and sulfur in sediments to uncover the effects of historical mining on lake Arnoux (Quebec, Canada): a retrospective of economic benefits vs. environmental debt
AuthorHamilton, P B; Lavoie, I; Alpay, S; Ponader, K
SourceFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution; Special Issue: Using paleolimnology for management and restoration of lakes; vol. 3, (2015), no. 99, 2015 p. 1-16, (Open Access)
Alt SeriesEarth Sciences Sector, Contribution Series 20150051
PublisherOpen-access journal part of Nature Publishing Group family
Mediapaper; on-line; digital
File formatpdf
AreaLac Arnoux
Lat/Long WENS -80.0000 -78.0000 49.0000 48.0000
ProgramTools for environmental impacts and adaptation for metal mining, Environmental Geoscience
Released2015 09 01
AbstractMonitoring changes in environmental conditions is becoming increasingly important as the Canadian economic infrastructure ramps up exploration and mining development in the more inaccessible northern regions of Canada. Governments are concurrently assessing effects from past mining activities and absorbing the economic cost to society of on-going remediation and monitoring initiatives. The abandoned Aldermac mine in northwestern Quebec, mined from 1932¿1943, is an excellent case study site for assessing the state of environmental effects of past mining operations, combined with the economics of both the original mining and on-going site remediation. A paleolimnological approach, using diatoms as environmental proxies, was the central tool to evaluate spatial and temporal impacts on aquatic receiving environments. Based on inferences from diatom assemblages in sediments from Lake Arnoux, prior to mining activity, surface water pH was similar to that of surrounding lakes (circum-neutral to weakly acidic). After mining operations terminated, changes in surface water pH and alkalinity in Lake Arnoux coincided with distinct increases in total sulphur content. Across a 30- to 40-year span, the phytoplankton flora completely disappeared. Lake acidification caused increased clarity of the water column, which allowed for the development and dominance of the benthic diatoms (>90%) in place of the plankton. These shifts in environmental proxies are concurrent with one, and possibly two, reported tailings pond breaches at the abandoned mine site which introduced additional acid mine drainage into Lake Arnoux. The adverse effects of the Aldermac mine on nearby ecosystems, combined with pressure from local citizens and environmental groups, forced both the economic necessity and responsible accountability for recent site restoration led by the Quebec government. Based on the historical period of economic growth for Quebec, the financial benefits of the former Aldermac mine were significant and justify the current pay-it-backward costs for environmental remediation. However, this model is not sustainable in the modern economy. New pay-it-forward approaches, like the grey water footprint, are required to merge economic and environmental sustainability for future prosperity.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
In this study, scientific evidence from algae, lake sediment chemistry, and surface water chemistry is combined with historical reports of contamination from an abandoned mine in northwestern Quebec which operated 80 years ago. The former Aldermac mine has recently become a restoration site. Further, the economic benefits of the original mine is weighed against environmental debt for site restoration and monitoring by the government of Quebec.