CSU, Chico News

Students to Conduct Field Research on Effects of Gold Mining

Date: 07-21-2015

Zachary Phillips, editorial assistant
Public Affairs
David Brown
Environmental Sciences

In the wake of receiving The Sierra Fund’s Sierra Crest Award for its research contributions to the effects of toxic mining in the Sierra Nevada, the CSU, Chico Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences’ (GEOS) has started a new field research partnership this summer with the California Department of Conservation’s Abandoned Mined Land Unit (AMLU).

The Sierra Fund, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore the natural resources of the Sierra Nevada, recognized GEOS with the Sierra Crest Award on April 21, 2015. Among its contributions to The Sierra Fund’s efforts, GEOS has provided research and education on the harmful human and environmental effects of mining practices through projects, coursework and participating in competitions.

Now, in conjunction with the AMLU, students and faculty are taking their research efforts into the field. Students will collect water samples from creeks surrounding abandoned mines as well as soil samples from mines themselves. These samples will later be tested in a certified lab for harmful chemicals such as mercury and arsenic, and the soil will be tested to determine its health and nutrient composition.

Environmental sciences professor David Brown says that the presence of mercury throughout water systems, a result of hydraulic mining, is a particularly important issue as the element can poison vital food sources and work its way up the food chain to humans. According to “Mining’s Toxic Legacy: An Initiative to Address Mining Toxins in the Sierra Nevada (PDF),” one of GEOS’ and the School of Nursing’s research collaborations with The Sierra Fund, mercury poisoning can do permanent damage to the human brain, nerves and immune system.

Additionally, students will be assisting in using ground-based lidar technology—technology that maps landscapes using reflected light from lasers—to monitor the erosion of rock formations in the area.

The field work serves several different purposes, Brown says, providing important data for the AMLU while giving GEOS students practical work experience and fulfilling their research requirements for undergraduate and graduate thesis projects.

Brown adds that this new partnership between students, faculty and the AMLU is an excellent model of the University’s mission of serving the region and the state as a whole. “It’s putting science into service to the state and to its citizens,” he said.

For more information on The Sierra Fund, visit their website. For more information on the California Department of Conservation’s AMLU, visit their website.