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Informing Future Decision Making on Uranium Mining in Arizona: Science for Health and Environment

July 13, 2022

The USGS is conducting research at uranium-bearing breccia pipe deposits to address data gaps related to the potential effects of uranium exploration and mining activities on the Grand Canyon watershed, its people, wildlife, and water resources. Study locations are primarily on Federal lands with a few locations on Tribal lands, and include historic and active mines.

Colored pencil illustration depicting impacts of Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon
Created for a future fact sheet on breccia pipe uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region, this drawing packs a significant amount of information into a single image. Starting from the upper-left portion of the drawing we have a cross-section of a breccia pipe along with the corresponding subdivided rock layers.  This image is inset into a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon with the Colorado River and a bighorn sheep. Just below it, we see a mule deer standing on the range, with the San Francisco Peaks in the background. The upper right of the drawing includes a rock formation the Havasupai Tribe call Wi'i Gileeva along with a California condor.

The image is bisected by a map of the Colorado River, much like the river cuts through the Grand Canyon, with National Park and Tribal boundaries incorporated. The lower left part image is that of a typical breccia pipe uranium mine site, sampling, and some of the species that occur at a mine site. The backdrop has pinyon pines and Red Butte. The lower right is a spring area, with people collecting samples of aquatic invertebrates and conducting water quality sampling. Above the spring is Vasey's Paradise, a spring that flows down the side of the canyon. Each circle includes something in the ecosystem that has been studied, but cannot necessarily be easily seen. The circles can be thought of, in a sense, like the lens of a magnifying glass. From left to right we have a tadpole with broken DNA, the root system below a native grass (representing root-uptake), a damselfly, and a caddisfly. The image as a whole represents the beauty of the region, the context of the greater landscape within which mining exists, and the science that has been conducted in the area.

Illustration by Benjamin J Siebers, Hydrologic Technician.