Surface water and groundwater interactions in an extensively mined watershed, upper Schuylkill River, Pennsylvania, USA

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Streams crossing underground coal mines may lose flow, whereas abandoned mine drainage (AMD) restores flow downstream. During 2005–2012, discharge from the Pine Knot Mine Tunnel, the largest AMD source in the upper Schuylkill River Basin, had near-neutral pH and elevated concentrations of iron, manganese and sulphate. Discharge from the tunnel responded rapidly to recharge but exhibited a prolonged recession compared with nearby streams, consistent with rapid infiltration of surface water and slow release of groundwater from the mine complex. Dissolved iron was attenuated downstream by oxidation and precipitation, whereas dissolved CO2 degassed and pH increased. During high flow conditions, the AMD and downstream waters exhibited decreased pH, iron and sulphate with increased acidity that were modelled by mixing net-alkaline AMD with recharge or run-off having low ionic strength and low pH. Attenuation of dissolved iron within the river was least effective during high flow conditions because of decreased transport time coupled with inhibitory effects of low pH on oxidation kinetics.


A numerical model of groundwater flow was calibrated by using groundwater levels in the Pine Knot Mine and discharge data for the Pine Knot Mine Tunnel and West Branch Schuylkill River during a snowmelt event in January 2012. Although the calibrated model indicated substantial recharge to the mine complex took place away from streams, simulation of rapid changes in mine pool level and tunnel discharge during a high flow event in May 2012 required a source of direct recharge to the Pine Knot Mine. Such recharge produced small changes in mine pool level and rapid changes in tunnel flow rate because of extensive unsaturated storage capacity and high transmissivity within the mine complex. Thus, elimination of stream leakage could have a small effect on the annual discharge from the tunnel, but a large effect on peak discharge and associated water quality downstream. Published 2013. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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