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Geochemistry of a buried marine mine tailings deposit, Howe Sound, British Columbia Drysdale, Karen


One hundred surface sediment samples and two 30 cm cores were collected from Howe Sound, British Columbia, a deep (≈280 m) fjord with a restricted inner basin into which mine tailings had been dumped for 75 years. The abundances of major elements Si, Al, Ti, Fe, Mg, Ca, Na, K, C, N, and P, and minor elements Ba, Co, Cr, Cu, Mn, Ni, Pb, Rb, Sr, V, Y, Zn, and Zr were determined as well as nutrient and trace metal concentrations in porewater from the two cores. The solid-phase data suggest that the inner basin sediments are dominated by Squamish River-derived feldspars, while the outer basin is characterized more by quartz and Fe and Mg minerals, which enter the southernmost portion of the fjord via estuarine circulation from Georgia Strait. Although Fe, Cu, Pb, Zn, and Ba are still enriched in sediments near the tailings outfall, the lapse of 13 years since cessation of tailings deposition has apparently resulted in reduced metal levels throughout much of the rest of the inlet due to ongoing dilution by natural sedimentation. Profiles of these metals with depth show that the tailings deposit proper is buried by ≈14 cm of natural sediment in the deep central portion of the inner basin. Porewater analysis of the two cores revealed that active bacterial remobilization of organic matter is occurring at both locations; although the organic carbon content of the outer basin is greater than that in the inner basin, sulphate-reduction is more intense in the latter due to the higher sedimentation rate. Despite this, dissolved sulphides were nearly absent in porewaters, leading to the conclusion that authigenic pyrite precipitation is removing some of the dissolved Fe. Dissolved Cu and Zn are enriched in surficial porewaters of both the outer and inner basins (i.e. Cu = 215 and 132 nmol/L, respectively, and Zn = 32 µmol/L and 1.6 /µmol/L), but decrease rapidly within the top 2-3 cm, suggestive of active removal by some mechanism. Dissolved Pb concentrations were low (<3 nmol/L) in both cores, and did not show any surface enrichment. These data suggest that a strongly reducing environment such as is found at depth in natural sediments inhibits the release of some labile metals which may be contained within them.

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