Deep Impact: Effects of Mountaintop Mining on Surface Topography, Bedrock Structure, and Downstream Waters.

Published

Journal Article

Land use impacts are commonly quantified and compared using 2D maps, limiting the scale of their reported impacts to surface area estimates. Yet, nearly all land use involves disturbances below the land surface. Incorporating this third dimension into our estimates of land use impact is especially important when examining the impacts of mining. Mountaintop mining is the most common form of coal mining in the Central Appalachian ecoregion. Previous estimates suggest that active, reclaimed, or abandoned mountaintop mines cover ∼7% of Central Appalachia. While this is double the areal extent of development in the ecoregion (estimated to occupy <3% of the land area), the impacts are far more extensive than areal estimates alone can convey as the impacts of mines extend 10s to 100s of meters below the current land surface. Here, we provide the first estimates for the total volumetric and topographic disturbance associated with mining in an 11 500 km(2) region of southern West Virginia. We find that the cutting of ridges and filling of valleys has lowered the median slope of mined landscapes in the region by nearly 10 degrees while increasing their average elevation by 3 m as a result of expansive valley filling. We estimate that in southern West Virginia, more than 6.4km(3) of bedrock has been broken apart and deposited into 1544 headwater valley fills. We used NPDES monitoring datatsets available for 91 of these valley fills to explore whether fill characteristics could explain variation in the pH or selenium concentrations reported for streams draining these fills. We found that the volume of overburden in individual valley fills correlates with stream pH and selenium concentration, and suggest that a three-dimensional assessment of mountaintop mining impacts is necessary to predict both the severity and the longevity of the resulting environmental impacts.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ross, MRV; McGlynn, BL; Bernhardt, ES

Published Date

  • February 4, 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 50 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 2064 - 2074

PubMed ID

  • 26800154

Pubmed Central ID

  • 26800154

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1520-5851

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0013-936X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1021/acs.est.5b04532

Language

  • eng