Long Term Changes in the Limnology and Geochemistry of the Berkeley Pit Lake, Butte, Montana
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The Berkeley pit lake in Butte, Montana is one of the largest accumulations of acid mine drainage in the world. The pit lake began filling in 1983, and continues to fill at a rate of roughly 10 million liters d-1. This paper details how changes in mining activities have led to changes in the rate of filling of the pit lake, as well as changes in its limnology and geochemistry. As of 2005, the Berkeley pit lake is meromictic, with lower conductivity water resting on top of higher conductivity water. This permanent stratification was set up by diversion of surface water—the so-called Horseshoe Bend Spring—into the pit during the period 2000 to 2003. However, the lake may have been holomictic prior to 2000, with seasonal top-to-bottom turnover events. The present mining company is pumping water from below the chemocline to a copper precipitation plant, after which time the Cu-depleted and Fe-enriched water is returned to the pit. Continued operation of this facility may eventually change the density gradient of the lake, with a return to holomictic conditions. A conceptual model illustrating some of the various physical, chemical, and microbial processes responsible for the unusually poor water quality of the Berkeley pit lake is presented.
Keywordsacid mine drainage Butte ground water hydrogeology pyrite oxidation
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