Cost-effective, post-mining environmental restoration of an open-cast phosphate mine at Langebaanweg, South Africa

Van Eeden, Joseph Deon (2010) Cost-effective, post-mining environmental restoration of an open-cast phosphate mine at Langebaanweg, South Africa. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




Approaching the ecological rehabilitation of an open-cast phosphate mine in the West Coast of South Africa during the post-operational phase presented some challenges. The area was extensively modified during the mining operations. Soils from different layers were mixed with topsoil being covered by subsoil, overburden dumps and tailing dams being constructed resulting in extensive cross-zoned soils. Large areas of subsoil areas were exposed on the mine floor with localized and small scale salinity being evident. The modified topography as well as the complex new surface material posed a challenge in terms of identifying suitable local species that could be used to rehabilitate the post-mining environment. The mine area was heavily infested with woody alien invasive plants, such as Acacia cyclops, established in an attempt to reduce the dust and little natural vegetation cover was present. In the arid west coast environment, the four-month-long winter growing season is followed by hot and windy dry summers (Chapter 2) presenting a challenge reestablishing local vegetation in modified soils. Moreover, little was known about the local vegetation in terms of their propagation and use in stabilization techniques as an alternative to exotic vegetation such as the A. cyclops, which had been more often used in revegetation projects. A study was conducted to determine the most efficient and cost-effective methods of vegetative rehabilitation of the Chemfos site (Chapter 1). A review of the literature available at the time as well as approaches that were successfully implemented in other Western Cape rehabilitation projects such as the Du Toitskloof Pass and the Sishen–Saldanha railway line (Chapter 3), were considered. Previous studies on the west coast dunes at Blaauwberg had shown using Marram grass as a dune stabilizer was most successful. Marram grass was tested in trials alongside local grasses, such as Chaetobromus dregeanus and Ehrharta villosa, that showed potential but had not been formally evaluated. The environmental context of Chemfos (Chapter 2) as well as the Conceptual Rehabilitation Plan that considered the modified environment, soils and closure objectives of the mine, were reviewed to determine the most pressing rehabilitationrelated questions that required answers. This led to the final experimental design that was implemented mid-winter in 1996 (Chapter 5). The trials were implemented in the areas perceived to be the most difficult to rehabilitate, namely the mobile sands in the tailings dam and the exposed subsoil or mine floor areas. The use of brushwood together with specific plants and seeds appropriate for the use in either sandy soil or subsoil were evaluated in a variety of combinations and application densities to determine the most effective treatment combination at the minimum effective density. The best initial cover of the tailings dam were recorded in the Ammophila arenaria trials but the use of the local grass species Ehrharta villosa, performed better from year two onwards and was much cheaper to establish. On the subsoil, the trials where a cover of topsoil was used performed better than the combination trials. This indicated that topsoil placement on post-operational phase shaped subsoils during the mining operation to be the most desirable treatment. Initial results of the trials were used as a basis for developing the rehabilitation techniques that were rolled out across the Chemfos landscape. The approaches were refined as indications of trial responses became evident. Lessons learned were incorporated in the adaptive management approach that was followed and the rehabilitation techniques (Chapter 6) were continually re-evaluated and adjusted. This resulted in a significant step towards achieving the overall research objective of finding cost-effective approaches to rehabilitation. Components such as refinement of the seed collection and processing techniques (Chapter 7) where the post-harvest processing cost was significantly reduced by introducing specially designed drying racks. Processing techniques were adjusted to suit the different species, and a variety of mechanical processing options were explored. The scale of the Chemfos project led to the development of new techniques of manufacturing a smoke-derived germination stimulant (Chapter 8) since commercial availability of these products was very limited. The development of FireGrow assisted in the overall aim of reducing cost by increasing germination of seed in the rehabilitation sites using a very cost-effective smoke concentrate. Socio-economical aspects were considered during the implementation as well as the post-closure phases of the rehabilitation and BHPBilliton invested through the agency of the SAMANCOR Trust. This led to the development of livelihoods of the staff that remained in the area and that lived in the mine village. The demography of the population has changed over time in the Green Village as well as the skills that the inhabitants have developed. Thus, the new economic opportunities that were pursued have brought a new lease on life beyond the lifespan of the mine (Chapter 9) once the closure certificate had been issued.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Abandoned mined lands reclamation, South Africa, Langebaan, Phosphate mines and mining, Phytoremediation
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QK Botany
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Botany
ID Code:2125
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:13 Oct 2011 14:10
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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