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Mountaintop Removal Mining

This semester I’m teaching Environmental Earth Science to a fantastic group of students at Kent State. In tomorrow’s class about fossil fuels, we’ll be talking about coal formation, use, and environmental consequences. A big one I think they should be aware of is the practice of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia. We’ve already talked about it a bit, but I think this video gives some nice visuals, even if the narration veers a bit from overly dramatic to “boys with toys”.

From the Smithsonian:

Several well-respected scientists are working to figure out the impact of mountaintop removal mining on stream ecosystems. The coal companies haven’t exactly lined up to fund their work and provide access to the sites. So what *do* we know about the impacts of mountaintop mining on Appalachian streams and rivers? Here’s just one example, from the abstract of Bernhardt and Palmer (2011):

Southern Appalachian forests are recognized as a biodiversity hot spot of global significance, particularly for endemic aquatic salamanders and mussels. The dominant driver of land-cover and land-use change in this region is surface mining, with an ever-increasing proportion occurring as mountaintop mining with valley fill operations (MTVF). In MTVF, seams of coal are exposed using explosives, and the resulting noncoal overburden is pushed into adjacent valleys to facilitate coal extraction. To date, MTVF throughout the Appalachians have converted 1.1 million hectares of forest to surfacemines and buried more than 2,000 km of stream channel beneath mining overburden. The impacts of these lost forests and buried streams are propagated throughout the river networks of the region as the resulting sediment and chemical pollutants are transmitted downstream. There is, to date, no evidence to suggest that the extensive chemical and hydrologic alterations of streams by MTVF can be offset or reversed by currently required reclamation and mitigation practices.

Here’s an overview of the consequences and some suggested policy recommendations, presented in Science in 2010.

Among the scientists working on the environmental consequences of mountaintop removal, Margaret Palmer has become perhaps the most visible. Here she is on the Colbert Report:

(Note: the content appears to be unavailable tonight. Hopefully it will be made available again soon.)

Finally, here’s an profile of Margaret Palmer and her work on mountaintop removal mining, published earlier this year in Science magazine.

For more information:

Braided river meets mountain gorge: The Snake River escapes Jackson Hole

Though I don’t think anything can top Kyle’s pathologically misdirected RYNHO, I recently had cause to contemplate a river that everyone has heard of – the Snake River of the northwestern United States. Now, the Snake River has a famous gorge, a famous lava plain, and it’s had a famously big flood or two, but the upper reaches of the Snake are pretty scenic too. The Snake originates in Yellowstone National Park and flows through Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole valley. Throughout the broad, flat valley, the Snake is beautifully braided (with some gorgeous terraces too).Then it runs into some mountains – the Wyoming Range – and it runs out of room to braid, becoming constricted into a narrow mountain gorge. Interestingly, after heading south from Yellowstone and through Jackson Hole, the river turns west through the mountains and then quite abruptly turns north towards Idaho’s Snake River Plain.

I’d love to know how and why the river started along this path and how intensely the river’s course is geologically controlled. I think the gorge is south of the Teton block, and it’s possible that it’s in an narrow zone that hasn’t seen as much uplift as other mountain blocks in the Basin and Range, but I’m just speculating here. If anyone has any good ideas or citations, please drop them in the comments.

The images below are from a mix of Flash Earth (permalink here) and Google Earth. The first is a large scale view of the braided-gorge transition, while the second and third are close-ups of typical braided and gorge reaches, respectively.

Posted via web from Pathological Geomorphology