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Mining pollution in Greenland - a lesson learned

Søndergaard and Mosbech present a review of 50 years of environmental studies and monitoring of mining sites in Greenland. The review highlights the long-term effects of mining and shows the legacy of mines as the areas are still polluted. Three mine sites (Ivittuut, Mestersvig and Maarmorilik) caused marked heavy metal pollution due to a lack of adequate environmental studies and regulation. Important lessons are learned, not the least that monitoring needs to be specific for each mine and take conditions unique to the Arctic into account, not the least permafrost, seasonal drainage and fjord stratification dynamics. Read more here

Affarlikassaa is a small side fjord, where most of the Maamorilik Mine's waste products (tailings) were pumped out. The idea was that natural sedimentation over the years would cover the waste and minimize the pollution. Unfortunately, this did not happen for at least two reasons: Firstly, the lead-containing sulphide minerals in the waste material actually dissolved in seawater. Secondly, the exchange of water and sediments between Affarlikassaa and the larger fjord system was surprisingly extensive. This was recognized early in the history of the mining activities, yet mining continued until 1990. The photo shows Affarlikassaa and a near-surface sediment plume during mid-summer few years ago.

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