Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 625–639 | Cite as

Lithological and geochemical record of mining-induced changes in sediments from Macquarie Harbour, southwest Tasmania, Australia

  • Paul Augustinus
  • Charles E. Barton
  • Atun Zawadzki
  • Kate Harle
Original Article


Macquarie Harbour in southwest Tasmania, Australia, has been affected severely by the establishment of mines in nearby Queenstown in the 1890s. As well as heavy metal-laden acid rock drainage from the Mount Lyell mine area, over 100 Mt of mine tailings and slag were discharged into the Queen and Ring Rivers, with an estimated 10 Mt of mine tailings building a delta of ca. 2.5 km2 and ca. 10 Mt of fine tailings in the harbour beyond the delta. Coring of sediments throughout Macquarie Harbour indicated that mine tailings accreted most rapidly close to the King River delta source with a significant reduction in thickness of tailings and heavy metal contamination with increasing distance from the King River source. Close to the King River delta the mine tailings are readily discriminated from the background estuarine sediments on the basis of visual logging of the core (laminations, colour), sediment grain size, sediment magnetic susceptibility and elemental geochemistry, especially concentrations of the heavy metals Cu, Zn and Pb. The high heavy metal concentrations are demonstrated by the very high contamination factors (CF > 6) for Cu and Zn, with CF values mostly >50 for Cu for the mine-impacted sediments. Although the addition of mine waste into the King River catchment has ceased, the catchment continues to be a source of these heavy metals due to acid rock drainage and remobilisation of mine waste in storage in the river banks, river bed and delta. The addition of heavy metals to the harbour sourced from the Mount Lyell mines preceded the advent of direct tailings disposal into the Queen River in 1915 with the metals probably provided by acid rock drainage from the Mount Lyell mining area.


Macquarie Harbour Heavy metals Acid rock drainage Mine tailings 



This study was undertaken with grants from the Tasmanian Government National Parks and Wildlife Service, the University of Auckland Research Committee (3600547) and Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering grants (98/142R, 99/007 and 01/001). David Hannan is thanked for his assistance with the coring on Macquarie Harbour.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Augustinus
    • 1
  • Charles E. Barton
    • 2
    • 4
  • Atun Zawadzki
    • 3
  • Kate Harle
    • 3
    • 5
  1. 1.School of EnvironmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Geoscience AustraliaCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental ResearchAustralian Nuclear Science and Technology OrganisationMenaiAustralia
  4. 4.Earth Physics, Research School of Earth SciencesAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  5. 5.Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research OrganisationCanberraAustralia

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