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Remote sensing for environmental site screening and watershed evaluation in Utah Mine lands: East Tintic mountains, Oquirrh mountains, and Tushar mountains

June 2, 2005

Imaging spectroscopy-a powerful remote-sensing tool for mapping subtle variations in the composition of minerals, vegetation, and man-made materials on the Earth's surface-was applied in support of environmental assessments and watershed evaluations in several mining districts in the State of Utah. Three areas were studied through the use of Landsat 7 ETM+ and Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) data: (1) the Tintic mining district in the East Tintic Mountains southwest of Provo, (2) the Camp Floyd mining district (including the Mercur mine) and the Stockton (or Rush Valley) mining district in the Oquirrh Mountains south of the Great Salt Lake, and (3) the Tushar Mountains and Antelope Range near Marysvale.

The Landsat 7 ETM+ data were used for initial site screening and the planning of AVIRIS surveys. The AVIRIS data were analyzed to create spectrally defined maps of surface minerals with special emphasis on locating and characterizing rocks and soils with acid-producing potential (APP) and acid-neutralizing potential (ANP). These maps were used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for three primary purposes: (1) to identify unmined and anthropogenic sources of acid generation in the form of iron sulfide and (or) ferric iron sulfate-bearing minerals such as jarosite and copiapite; (2) to seek evidence for downstream or downwind movement of minerals associated with acid generation, mine waste, and (or) tailings from mines, mill sites, and zones of unmined hydrothermally altered rocks; and (3) to identify carbonate and other acid-buffering minerals that neutralize acidic, potentially metal bearing, solutions and thus mitigate potential environmental effects of acid generation.

Calibrated AVIRIS surface-reflectance data were spectrally analyzed to identify and map selected surface materials. Two maps were produced from each flightline of AVIRIS data: a map of iron-bearing minerals and water having absorption features in the spectral region from 0.35 µm to 1.35 µm and a map of minerals (including clays, sulfates, micas, and carbonates) having absorptions in the spectral region from 1.45 µm to 2.51 µm. Several methods were used to verify the AVIRIS mapping results, including field checking of selected locations with a portable spectrometer, visual inspection of the AVIRIS reflectance spectra, and X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis of field samples.

The maps of iron-bearing minerals derived from analysis of the visible (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) regions of the electromagnetic spectrum were shown to be more consistently reliable in indicating the presence of jarosite than were the maps generated from analysis of the short-wave infrared (SWIR) region. When present in abundance, phyllosilicate minerals tend to dominate the SWIR and mask the spectral features of jarosite in that wavelength region. The crystal field absorptions of jarosite in the VIS and NIR spectral regions will commonly be present regardless of whether the Fe-OH absorption feature near 2.27 µm can be detected. For this reason, the VIS and NIR were preferable to the SWIR for the remote spectroscopic identification of jarosite (and other iron-bearing minerals).

Large exposures of unmined hydrothermally altered rocks occur throughout the three study areas. These rocks commonly contain sulfide or sulfate minerals that produce sulfuric acid upon subaerial oxidation. The acid may be introduced into local surface and ground water and thus lower the baseline (that is, the premining) pH for a watershed.

Publication Year 2005
Title Remote sensing for environmental site screening and watershed evaluation in Utah Mine lands: East Tintic mountains, Oquirrh mountains, and Tushar mountains
DOI 10.3133/sir20045241
Authors Barnaby W. Rockwell, Robert R. McDougal, Carol A. Gent
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2004-5241
Index ID sir20045241
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse