With the continuing demand for industrialisation and urbanisation, the rate of mining and processing lower grade ores will also increase, producing large quantities of waste. As extreme weather events associated with global climatic changes are to be expected, the risk from mine tailings management will also increase (Edraki et al., 2014). In sulfide rich tailings, weathering within the critical zone controls the fate and distribution of the contaminants such as copper, zinc, and lead in the environment (Hayes et al., 2014). Tailings evolve geochemically and physically with time as they age under the influence of complex interacting factors. Understanding of the complex interactions between these controlling factors is important for predicting and mitigating the potential risks associated with sulfide tailings such as generation of acid mine drainage (Lindsay et al., 2015).
Wetting and drying initiates weathering processes, influencing the hydrological, geochemical and geomechanical properties of the tailings. In semi-arid climates where evaporation exceeds precipitation, salts may precipitate within the pore system as well as on the tailings surface. These salts become the temporal sink of heavy metals until the next episodic rainfall (Nordstrom, 2011, Grover et al., 2016). Therefore, using kinetic and static test to describe the trajectory of these material evolutions without considering the complex interactions could potentially lead to erroneous prediction. In order to understand these relations, the effect of drying and wetting cycles on the hydrological, geochemical and geomechanical properties of ageing tailings was studied to draw conclusions for advanced tailings site rehabilitation and mine closure
Akesseh, R, Shaygan, M, Usher, B, Edraki, M and Baumgartl, T, 2018. Wetting and drying cycles as a means to determine the effect and consequences of tailings ageing, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2018, pp 24–27 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).