, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 8-15

Generating productive topsoil substitutes from hard rock overburden in the southern appalachians

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Abstract

Natural soils on steeply sloping landscapes in the Appalachian coal fields of Virginia. West Virginia. Kentucky, and Tennessee are often thin, rocky, acidic and infertile, making the topsoiling of surface mined sites impractical in many cases. Topsoil substitutes composed of blasted rock fragments are commonly used in this region. The proper selection and placement of designated topsoil substitutes is therefore critical to long term reclamation success. These mine soil surfaces are not in equilibrium and with the surface environment, and it is quite difficult to diferentiate among dissolution, adsorption, desorption and precipitation reactions as these surfaces weather with time. Severe compaction limits the productivity of many otherwise suitable topsoil substitutes. A minimum non-compacted thickness of 1 m is desirable to insure long run mine soil productivity for a variety of post-mining land uses. Significant changes in the physical, chemical, and mineralogical properties of mine soils occur within one year after placement. Mine soils high in silt content often form hard vesicular surface crusts, particularly when left unvegetated. The long term survival of plant communities on these mine soils is dependent upon mine soil organic matter accumulation and N and P cycling. Little is currently known about N and P dynamics in these mine soils, but P-fixation is a profound problem in high Fe3- spoils. Revegetation practices that were designed to meet 2-year bond release requirements may not he sufficient to meet new 5-year release standards. Hard rock derived mine soils can often equal or exceed native topsoil in productivity and post mining land use potential.