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The geochemistry of sediments and mine tailings in the Alice Arm area Losher, Albert Justin


A geochemical study of the composition of natural sediments and contaminating mine tailings in Hastings and Alice Arms has been carried out. Apart from the geochemical investigation on the solid fraction, pore waters from six sediment cores have been analyzed to evaluate the diagenetic processes in the sediments of these two inlets. Differences in the mineralogy as well as in the chemical composition of the sediments were used to distinguish the natural sediments from contaminated sediments and pure tailings. In Alice Arm, two types of tailings could be differentiated with these methods. The first tailings type originated from the Kitsault Mo-deposit, which was mined in the past two decades by the B.C. Molybdenum Corporation and AMAX/Canada. These tailings are characterized by a number of features which make them distinguishable from natural sediments. The K-feldspar content of the tailings is significantly increased, mainly at the expense of plagioclase, which is the main characteristic for the mineralogical identification of this tailings type. The enhanced K-feldspar content is the cause for increased K and Rb values in the Mo-mine tailings. Another indicator specific to these recent tailings is an increased Mo content. The second tailings type is derived from an older mining operation in the Kitsault Valley, most likely the Dolly Varden Silver Mine. A specific indicator for these tailings is their high Ba content which is due to large amounts of barite. This mineral phase could be identified by X-ray diffraction methods in a heavy mineral fraction of the relevant sediment layers. Both tailings types show enrichment in their Pb, Zn and S concentrations, caused by an increased amount of metal-sulphides in the ore materials. In this area, these elements can therefore serve as a general indicator for the contamination of natural sediment with either tailings type. The interstitial water analyses indicated that the sediments in both inlets become reducing at a fairly shallow depth (10-15 cm), resulting in the mobilization of Mn, Fe and Mo from the solid phase. In the deeper parts of the cores, consumption of these metals could usually be observed which is likely due to precipitation of authigenic components. The dissolved Mo concentrations in the sediments contaminated with the modern tailings were much higher than in the natural sediments. In the pore water of the pure tailings the concentration reaches some 300 times that of the overlying water, which is the highest value ever reported for saline pore waters. These high Mo concentrations must support a flux of Mo from the sediment into the overlying water, and it is shown that such a flux could increase the inventory of naturally occurring dissolved Mo in the deep waters of Alice Arm by up to 4%.

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