A paper from Curtin University’s Australian Research Council-funded Centre for Mine Site Restoration (CMSR) has stated that tailings teams need more time to restore the land after mine closures.
The paper, entitled ‘One giant leap for mankind: can ecopoiesis avert mine tailings disasters?’ — ecopoiesis referring to the concept of geological terraforming —argues that new scientific innovations will be required for improved tailings success.
“Essentially, industry are being asked to achieve thousands of years of natural soil development in under a decade,” said Dr Adam Cross of the CSMR.
“We’re not saying it can’t be done — we’re just saying it needs more time and industry need tools that can help predict the trajectory and resilience of restoration at early stages.”
The report cites mine tailings as the most ecologically hostile byproduct of mining operations, and as tailings production continues to increase globally and mine closures occur over relatively short time frames of five to 10 years, cause risk to biodiversity and the economic viability of mining in the long term.
The study analysed tailings from processed magnetite ore, which varied greatly in composition from the natural soils from whence they came, a factor that caused “biologically challenging” environmental issues when returned to the earth.
The report concluded that the introduction of natural microbes to the soil could be key in increased post-operation soil and plant development; the paper’s researchers hope to facilitate such naturally occurring microbes as a consequence of their findings, a process that takes considerable time.
“Adequate restoration is much more than simply sprinkling some seeds and planting some trees — ecologists need to prepare the soil layer by layer,” said Dr Cross.
“The research highlights the need for the early establishment of site-appropriate microbiota to adequately prepare the soil to sustain vegetation, before revegetation can begin.”