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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Charlotte Adams

Nuttall, C. A. & Younger, P. L. Hydrochemical stratification in flooded underground mines: an overlooked pitfall. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology. 2004;69:101-114.

Author(s) from Durham


The fact that flooded underground mines are commonly hydrochemically stratified is often not appreciated. Water samples taken from the water surface in partly flooded shafts are often wrongly assumed to represent the water quality existing throughout the entire water column. In some cases, treatment systems have been designed on the basis of these often misleading water surface samples. Stratification can build up within a slowly recovering system where there are few lateral inflows and outflows to the system. Less mineralised, shallow-sourced water enters at the top of the water column and more heavily mineralised water tends to remain at the base of the water column. This water has a high dissolved solids content due to dissolution of increasing amounts of pyrite oxidation salts and other minerals as the water level rises through the old workings. However, such stratification can easily be lost following hydraulic disturbance of the system (either by pumping or by natural decant when the water level reaches an outflow pathway from the mine system, such as an old adit or shaft collar) and often results in surface discharges of poor water quality. Test pumping of one such stratified system (Frances Colliery, Scotland) has provided useful information about how stratified systems develop, and how they can behave when disturbed. The water quality observed after stratification was disturbed by pumping was worse than would have been anticipated on the basis of water samples taken from the surface of the water column prior to pumping (with concentrations of contaminants such as iron and zinc being around two orders of magnitude greater than in water surface samples). Taken together with other information from the literature, the experience at Frances Colliery supports the proposal of criteria for recognising when stratification of mine water quality might be anticipated, thus facilitating the timely deployment of measures required for its detection at an early stage.