Research@Mines Archive:
June, 2018

SD Mines Researchers Trace Pollution from Historic Northern Hills Mine Tailings Hundreds of Miles Downstream

Students taking part in research on this project include Bryce Pfiefle, the lead author of this paper, who graduated from SD Mines with a master’s degree in geological engineering.

The Black Hills of South Dakota was once home to the largest underground gold mine in North America – the Homestake Mine. Following its closure in 2002, the mine was turned into the Sanford Underground Research Facility. But, newly published research shows evidence of the past mining activities can still be found hundreds of miles downstream.

The history of gold mining in the northern Black Hills dates back about 130 years. During the first to middle part of the 20th century, about 100-million tons of mine tailings went down Whitewood Creek and into the Belle Fourche, Cheyenne and Missouri rivers. Research by a group of scientists, including James Stone, Ph.D., a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, along with others at the USGS Dakota Water Science Center show elevated levels of arsenic and other contaminants in these historic mine tailings.  

“The concentrations in the pore waters and sediments were quite high for arsenic in some sampling sites,” says Stone. 

In the 1980s, mine tailings along Whitewood Creek, found to contain arsenic, mercury and other pollutants, became an EPA Superfund Site. That clean-up project was completed in the ...

Last Edited 10/3/2023 04:41:37 PM [Comments (0)]

The Math of the Wild

Some of these Elk are fitted with radio collars. The data generated through these collars is valuable to mathematicians who study animal movement. This photo is courtesy of the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks.

Around the summer of 2003 in the La Sal Mountains of Utah, mule deer began to turn into zombies.

Or, at least they began to act like zombies. They started losing weight, salivated constantly, and began to walk in listless circles. They grew apathetic and then stopped running from humans.

At first only a few sick animals turned up in annual surveys of harvested deer, but the numbers grew. Testing confirmed the fears of wildlife managers, Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. The prion disease produces lesions in the brain that change the animals' behavior. “We call them zombie deer,” says Martha Garlick, PhD, SD Mines math professor.

At first CWD shows no symptoms. It progresses over the course of a few years, but once contracted it’s always fatal. CWD is highly contagious and it has ravaged deer and elk populations across the American West. 

Understanding the rate of spread is crucial to stopping any disease. This is where Garlick’s work comes in, she is teamed up with wildlife biologists, mathematicians, and statisticians at Utah State University and Colorado State University. The team is part of a National Science Foundation grant to improve computer models that can help predict how animal populations move. 

“I love math anyway, but, it’s really cool to actually apply this to something real world. It’s exciting to predict things about animal movement that will help wildlife managers who car...

Last Edited 7/18/2018 08:36:52 PM [Comments (0)]

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