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sector_ico_Mining_trans Mining

Metagenomics to assess impacts of the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam breach on associated ecosystems

  • Project Leaders: Lauchlan Fraser, Susan Baldwin
  • Institutions: Thompson Rivers University (TRU)
  • Budget: $286400
  • Program/Competition: Emerging Issues
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2014
  • Status: Closed

The Mount Polley Mine tailings dam breached on August 4, 2014. Over the following 2-3 days approximately 24 million m3 of mine-influenced, non-treated water and mine tailings sediment escaped into the natural watershed, covering 25 hectares of lake-associated wetland, 45 hectares of riparian area, and releasing sediment and dissolved contaminants to Polley Lake, and Quesnel Lake, with the risk of contamination further downstream into the Fraser River. The event was highly destructive and the long-term effects on the environment are potentially catastrophic. Wetlands and riparian areas are noted for their capacity for passive remediation of mine tailings and associated effluents. The removal of heavy metals from oxidized mine tailings is dependent upon metabolic processes carried out by sulfate and metal reducing bacteria, but despite considerable efforts using traditional culture-based techniques, little is known about the interrelationship between microbial food webs, macrophyte communities, and soil chemistry in natural wetlands, and especially how these relationships change in response to chemical and physical disturbance.

There is an urgent need for immediate research, to generate baseline data for continued monitoring of ecosystem recovery. This project will integrate metagenomic techniques into a monitoring plan that incorporates traditional biogeochemical analysis, vegetation surveys and remote-sensing.