Isotopic imprints of mountaintop mining contaminants

Avner Vengosh, T. Ty Lindberg, Brittany R. Merola, Laura Ruhl, Nathaniel R. Warner, Alissa White, Gary S. Dwyer, Richard T. Di Giulio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Mountaintop mining (MTM) is the primary procedure for surface coal exploration within the central Appalachian region of the eastern United States, and it is known to contaminate streams in local watersheds. In this study, we measured the chemical and isotopic compositions of water samples from MTM-impacted tributaries and streams in the Mud River watershed in West Virginia. We systematically document the isotopic compositions of three major constituents: sulfur isotopes in sulfate (δ34SSO4), carbon isotopes in dissolved inorganic carbon (δ13C DIC), and strontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr). The data show that δ34SSO4, δ13C DIC, Sr/Ca, and 87Sr/86Sr measured in saline- and selenium-rich MTM impacted tributaries are distinguishable from those of the surface water upstream of mining impacts. These tracers can therefore be used to delineate and quantify the impact of MTM in watersheds. High Sr/Ca and low 87Sr/86Sr characterize tributaries that originated from active MTM areas, while tributaries from reclaimed MTM areas had low Sr/Ca and high 87Sr/86Sr. Leaching experiments of rocks from the watershed show that pyrite oxidation and carbonate dissolution control the solute chemistry with distinct 87Sr/86Sr ratios characterizing different rock sources. We propose that MTM operations that access the deeper Kanawha Formation generate residual mined rocks in valley fills from which effluents with distinctive 87Sr/86Sr and Sr/Ca imprints affect the quality of the Appalachian watersheds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10041-10048
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Isotopic imprints of mountaintop mining contaminants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this