SAGE Publications

Root penetration through sealing layers at mine deposit sites

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To prevent acid mine drainage arising from oxygen and water penetration of sulphide-rich mine tailings, the tailings are covered with layers of dry sealing material. Plant roots have a great ability to penetrate dense materials, and if the roots are able to penetrate the sealing layer of a tailings deposit, its oxygen-shielding properties could be reduced. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether plant roots are able to penetrate sealing layers covering mine tailings deposits. Root penetration into layers of various sealing materials, such as clayey moraine (clay, 8-10%; silt, 22-37%; sand, 37-55%; gravel, 15-18%), moraine (unspecified), 6-mm bentonite (kaolin clay) fabric, lime and clay, Cefyll® (mixture of pulverized coal fly ash, cement and water) and a mixture containing biosludge (30-35%) and bioashes (65-70%), was investigated. In the field, roots were studied by digging trenches alongside vegetation growing in 3- and 10-year-old mine sites. In the greenhouse root growth of Betula pendula, Pinus sylvestris, Poa pratensis and Salix viminalis were studied in compartments where the plants had been growing for 22 months.

The results from the field experiment indicated that roots are able to penetrate both deep down in the cover layer (1.7 m) and also into the sealing layers of various materials, and even to penetrate hard Cefyll. The addition of nutrients in the top cover reduced deep root growth and thereby also penetration through the sealing layer. Low hydraulic conductivity of the sealing layer or a thick cover layer had less effect on root penetration. In the greenhouse experiment roots did not penetrate the thin bentonite fabric, due to low pH (2.1-2.7) that was created from the underlying weathered mine tailings. The clayey moraine was penetrated by all species used in the greenhouse experiment; Pinus sylvestris had the greatest ability to penetrate. To prevent root penetration of the other sealing layer, a suitable condition for the plants should be created in the upper part of the cover layer, namely a sufficient amount of plant nutrients. However, to define such a condition is difficult since different plant species have different requirements.

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