Monitoring mining impacts in Northern Australia using lead isotope ratios

Monitoring mining impacts in Northern Australia using lead isotope ratios

Wed, 10/10/2012 - 09:30

About the Presenter

Dr Niels Munksgaard

Niels is a Chartered Chemist (CCHEM) with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. He earned his pH.D in Geology and Geochemistry from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

After working as a North Sea oil-field geologist for a few years he took up a position at Macquarie University in Sydney in charge of the geochemical laboratory and conducted geological research in Antarctica.

In 1990 Niels moved to the Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University) and helped establish the Environmental Analytical Chemistry Unit (EACU). The EACU has expanded into a significant provider of consultancy services in environmental research and chemical analysis for government and industry in Northern Australia. This has enabled the EACU to contribute analytical services to the research projects of over 100 staff members and postgraduate students and the facility has attracted significant government funding for research and infrastructure.

Niels’s research effort is focussed on the role of metal and nutrient pollutants associated with mining and urban development in coastal and marine environments of Northern Australia. This work has involved using of a wide range of advanced analytical techniques such as isotope techniques for tracing pollutant sources.


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Lead isotope ratios, determined by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, have been used to assess environmental impacts from uranium and lead mining in northern Australia.

The Pb isotope composition of most environmental samples contained evidence of mixing of two or more end-member components, each with their characteristic Pb isotope ratios allowing Pb sources to be unambiguously identified. The isotopic characteristics and sources identified include:

1. Highly radiogenic Pb (low 207Pb/206Pb and 208Pb/206Pb) in sediments from the Finniss River derived from the former Rum Jungle uranium mine.

2. Relatively non-radiogenic Pb (high 207Pb/206Pb and 208Pb/206Pb) in magpie geese livers from the Finniss River floodplains originating from Pb-ores via ingested Pb-shot.

3. Relatively non-radiogenic Pb in seagrass leaves and oyster soft tissue from the Gulf of Carpentaria resulting from dispersion of small amounts of Pb/Zn concentrate from a coastal loading facility.

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