ES 351 Webpage

Geospatial Analysis Group Project
Applications and Implementation of GIS - In Maps, Photos, locations, and Contamination-Remediation

Graham Markowitz, Cliff Nelson and Alan Peterson

| History | Applications of GIS in Mine Reclamation | Conclusion | References |


Contamination and Remediation |


Throughout the Western United States several thousand historic mines exist. Various waste from past hard-rock mining operations have contaminated the surrounding watersheds. Weathering of exposed minerals often results in acid drainages and metal enriched waters (USGS 1). According to the material that is presently being targeted, the method of mining was adjusted along with the location. Different historical approaches for the extraction of certain ores led to two primary methods; the placer method used for mining gold and the use of stamp mills for mining ores and other mineral concentrates. These types of sulfide mining removed considerable amounts of surficial sediments, often exposing heavy metals and other waste materials such as quartz, refractory silicate minerals, stable (inert) iron hydroxides, and clay. Waste piles or tailings from stamp mills and placers produced accumulations of metals and metalloids containing cadmium, arsenic, manganese, zinc, aluminum, and iron, which all are susceptible to leach into surface and ground water supply.

The principal concerns with groundwater and surface water are the affects from acid mine drainage, often causing a low pH (SCI and IEC, Chapter 3, 2006). Current research, often involves the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These systems are now being used for focusing on the processes that influence movement of contamination and the resulting ecological effects (USGS).



Remediation can be easily linked to many dispersed locations of tailings, smelter waste, and various waste rock piles of abandoned mines. Numerous remediation efforts throughout the United States have been in effect. Concerns of ecological risks associated with contamination led responsible parties such as the EPA and others (Trustees) to take responsive actions (U.S. EPA). Trustee Councils are formed to evaluate damages to natural resources and are primarily comprised of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management on behalf of the State, and the Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the Department of Public Health and Environment on behalf of the State, and the Department of Natural Resources on behalf of the State (SCI and EIC, Chapter 1, 2002).

The most common types of remediation include stream bank stabilization, revegetation, treatment of irrigated meadows, removal or maintenance of waste deposits, diversion of water flow, and capping of abandoned mines. Recent remediation and reclamation efforts have been conducted with Global Positioning Systems and Geographic Information Systems. Incorporation of GIS has been used for predicting future impacts on water quality from past and current mining locations. Improvements in Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and GIG modeling, have proved worthwhile in statistical analyses of defining variables in which acid mine drainage can be contained (Yager, 2009). Surveying and GIS mapping of abandoned mines as well as their sufficial features including waste piles can be integrated into GIS database. Real-time data can be acquired throughout these systems and can become accessible to federal and state agencies. Subsequently this data can be overlain onto maps to make routes, locations, and surficial features available.

Mapping and surveying mine openings, waste piles, and various features can be available to state systems for accurate and proper orientation for remediation and reclamation (Oliver, 2001). More recently GIS systems have been able to provide three-dimensional views that can be used in preparation for reclamation efforts. Remediation efforts are permitable throughout analyses of vegetation, geologic units, and drainages in regard to these systems (Yager, 2009). After phases of reclamation have been completed, both GPS and GIS systems can be integrated to monitor sites and document remediation closure.


Applications of GIS in Mine Reclamation

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports over 60,000 abandoned mines or mine features and only 20% of these have been reclaimed or are in the process of reclamation (Abandoned Mine Site Inventory 2009). The state of Utah alone has an estimated 20,000 “mine openings” (Abandoned Mines 2006). GIS provides an efficient way of assessing the potential hazards of these abandoned mine locations. One problem is the lack of information - Where are these mines? What was extracted? What is left in the mine waste? Is the hazard strictly physical (i.e. a hole in the ground) or are there chemical or biological hazards? GIS cannot answer these questions but GIS can organize raw data and that is a major step.

Utilizing the Global Positioning System (GPS) can give these potential hazards a location. GIS’ ability to sort spatial data based on specific parameters allows public and private agencies to prioritize and systematically eliminate these dangers. Location is only the first step. Field researchers often have problems even locating the mines. GIS maps provide a means of finding not only the best routes, but also can attach pertinent information such as land ownership, the type of mine, extent of the mine or other mines in the area. Once a site has been initially assessed, the new information can integrated into the GIS database and a plan of action can be determined with more accuracy and confidence (Weasely & Steckelberg 2002).

Not all mines are hidden from investigative agencies, but the hazards and extent of those hazards may be. The Missouri Lead Belt has been well documented, but remediation of contaminates released into the environment cover large watersheds. In 2008 the Big River Mine Sediment Assessment Project combined field sampling, laboratory testing and aerial photography to create a GIS database of the extent of the damage by known ‘point source’ mine waste piles. By modeling the flow of the Big River and its flood plain, taking soil and sediment samples, analyzing the samples for amount of contamination and organizing this information into layers to plot on aerial photography, scientists were able to have a more defined picture of the problem (Pavlowsky 2008).

Satellite imagery is another way GIS can locate mine contamination. In 2008 Shimmer proposed a mathematical analysis of Landsat images similar to the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). By adjusting the algorithm parameters, he was able to differentiate mine tailings from vegetation. Focusing on the absence of organic material, water saturation, and the homogenous grain size associated with mine tailings he refined the spectral range of the index to -0.39 to -0.35 (on a -1.0 to 1.0 scale based on red and near infrared ratios used in the NDVI). This new Normalized Difference Tailings Index (NDTI) was successful in identifying known tailing piles and eliminating all non-tailing features in the study area (Shimmer 2008).

Pyrite is associated with mining of heavy metals including gold and copper. Swayze et al (2000) used NASA’s Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) remote sensing images to identify mine waste near Leadville, CO. The oxidation of pyrite results in secondary minerals that each have unique spectroscopic signatures and a unique geochemical setting. Mapping of these minerals tracks the mine waste as it contaminates streams possibly infiltrating municipal water supplies (Swayze et al 2000).



For a long period of time, mining was not regulated in the United States.  Tailings and waste rock was simply ejected onto the surface wherever was convenient.  When a mine was no longer profitable the site was simply abandoned.  As a consequence, there are heavy concentrations of unsightly and hazardous mining waste on the surface in areas where valuable minerals can be found in the local geologic features.  Unfortunately, much of this mining waste contains heavy metals that have leeched out of the ejecta via the local hydrologic cycle.  In areas where mines are concentrated or where the tailings are especially rich in heavy metals, the drainage coming off of waste piles can be very acidic.  In some cases, the drainage can have a low enough pH to inhibit plant and animal life in and around the stream.  The lack of plant life on the banks of the stream allows the banks to erode much quicker than a healthy riparian zone.

GIS can be used to, not only map the existing areas of contamination, but to predict future areas of contamination. Monitoring areas that have been remediated and providing possible solutions for areas that are contaminated or are in danger of being contaminated are also applications of GIS.  In addition, GIS can help the existing trustees given the responsibility of maintaining and providing drinking water supplies to forecast and prepare for previously unforeseen complications.



Abandoned Mines., 2006. Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. Retrieved December 2, 2009, from,

Abandoned Mine Site Inventory., 2009 Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Retrieved December 2, 2009, from ned_mine_site.html

Clark, Jerry. Leadville Colorado – A Capsule History. The Ted Kierscey Collection. Narrow Gauge Circle maintained by Mark L. Evans, 1995-2004. Page last updated on 11/30/2009. Picture accessed at on December 4, 2009.

Oliver P. Wesley, P.E. and Allan G. Steckelberg. 2001. Use of Integrated GPS and GIS Systems in Mine Reclamation. Review Team for the Utah Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program for Evaluation, 2001. Annual Summary Evaluation Report of the Colorado-Utah Abandoned Mine Land. Managing Partners, Opal Group,L.L.C., Accessed at on December 4, 2009.

Pavlowsky, R. T., 2009. Big River Mine Sediment Assessment Project. Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Accesses at:

Reuters., 2008. Keep Out. Ecuador Revokes Hundreds of Mine Concessions. Accessed December 7, 2009 at:

SCR. 2002. Site Characterization Report for the Upper Arkansas River Basin. Prepared by the Memorandum of Understanding Parties Consulting Team.

Shimmer, R 2008. A Remote Sensing and GIS Method for Detecting Land Surface. Paper presented at The 17th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium, 16-20 November 2008. Retrieved from the University of Connecticut (UConn) Website: _Pecora2008.pdf

Smith, K.S., Lamothe, P.J., Meier, A.L., Walton-Day, K., and Ranville, J.F., 1999. Metal leaching through a fluvial tailings deposit along the upper Arkansas River, Colorado, in Tailings and Mine Waste '99--Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Tailings and Mine Waste '99, Fort Collins, Colorado, January 24-27, 1999: Rotterdam, A.A. Balkema, p. 627-632. Accessed at 999-Smith.pdf.on November 25, 2009.

Smith, K.S., Walton-Day, K., and Ranville, J.F., 2000. Evaluating the Effects of Fluvial Tailings Deposits on Water Quality in the Upper Arkansas River Basin, Colorado--observational scale considerations, in Proceedings from the Fifth International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage, Denver, Colorado, May 21-24, 2000: Littleton, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, p. 1415-1424.

Stratus Consulting, Inc. (SCI) and Industrial Economics, Incorporated (IEC) under contract GS-10F-0224J with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Upper Arkansas River Basin NaturalResources Damage Assessment; Preliminary Estimate of Damages. December, 2006.

Swayze, G. A., Smith, K. S., Clark, R. N., Sutley, S. J., Pearson, R. M., Vance, J. S., et al. 2000. Using Imaging Spectroscopy to Map Acidic Mine Waste. Environmental Science & Technology. 34 (1), 47.

USEPA. 2003. Ecological Risk Assessment for the Terrestrial Ecosystem California Gulch NPL Site Leadville, Colorado. ADDENDUM: Evaluation of Risks to Plants and Herbivores inthe Upper Arkansas River Flood Plain.

Weasley, O.P. & Steckelberg, A.G., (2002), Use of Integrated GPS and GIS Systems in Mine Reclamation. Paper presented at the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP) Annual conference, 15-18 September 2002. Retrieved from the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining website: k.pdf

Yager, Douglas., Manning, Andrew., Caine, Jonathan., Smith, Kathleen., U.S. Geological Survey. GIS and Statistical Analysis of Watershed Physical Characteristics, Silverton Mining Area, Colorado. 2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting. Accessed at on Dec 3, 2009.