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FRESHWATER SALINIZATION, IT'S NOT JUST A COASTAL PROBLEM: IMPACTS OF MOUNTAINTOP MINING ON A REGIONAL SCALE

Since 1976, mountaintop mining valley fill operations have converted approximately 5,400 km2 of the Appalachian ecoregion to surface mines. High concentrations of alkaline mine drainage ions have been found in streams below deposits of mining waste rock, as weathering products accumulate in water flowing through these fills. These elevated ion concentrations have been implicated in observed shifts in macroinvertebrate community composition and the extirpation of sensitive aquatic taxa. Given the abundance of mining-impacted streams, salinity could also be elevated at a regional scale in receiving rivers and persist far downstream of mines. We examined the dissipation of the salinity signal from the Hobet mine, the largest surface mine in Appalachia, by measuring the conductivity of the receiving Mud River at multiple points before its confluence with the Guyandotte River. Elevated conductivity persisted 110 km downstream of mines, with all sites above the EPA’s conductivity threshold for aquatic life. These findings indicate that mountaintop mining activities produce freshwater salinization at regional scales, potentially propagating ecological impacts far downstream of the disturbance.

Laura Naslund (Primary Presenter/Author), Duke University , laura.naslund@duke.edu;


Matthew Ross ( Co-Presenter/Co-Author), Duke University, matt.ross@duke.edu;


Alex Brooks ( Co-Presenter/Co-Author), Duke University , alex.brooks@duke.edu;


Eric Moore ( Co-Presenter/Co-Author), Duke University , eric.m.moore@duke.edu;


Brian McGlynn ( Co-Presenter/Co-Author), Duke University, brian.mcglynn@duke.edu;


Emily Bernhardt ( Co-Presenter/Co-Author), Duke University, ebernhar@duke.edu;