financed by Cape Breton Development Corporation (CBDC | “DEVCO”)

Project Partners

  • Cape Breton Development Corporation
  • Public Work and Services Canada


  • scheduled for 2010


Underground mining commonly disturbs the hydraulic behaviour of aquifers and opens additional space for subsurface waters (commonly called “groundwater”). After mining ceases, mines are usually allowed to flood and the groundwater is gradually filling the open space of the old underground mine workings, eventually becoming “mine water”. As all rock types – and coal is just a special type of rock – contain a certain amount of pyrite, the mine water reacts with that iron-disulphide mineral and, due to the nature of that chemical reaction, the proton acidity of the water increases and the pH as the measure for the proton activity, decreases. Simultaneously, this acidic mine water dissolves other minerals abundant in the host rocks and the coal, commonly metal sulphides and arsenates, and consequently the constituents of those minerals are released into the mine water. Thus, the mine water gets enriched in iron, sulphide, metals, semi-metals (“metalloids”) and acid. In those cases where buffer minerals (e.g. carbonates, mica, feldspar) are available, the acid of the mine water is buffered and the pH stays stable within a particular pH-range depending on the buffer minerals within the rocks (Wolkersdorfer 2008).

More than a century of coal mining in Cape Breton’s Sydney Coal Field interacted with the local aquifers and the host rock in a similar way as described before. Therefore, the Sydney Coal Field can act as a large scale laboratory to study the influence of underground mining on aquifers and the ocean as well as mine water remediation and management techniques that lessen those impacts. Currently, the mine water in the Sydney Coal Field is filling or already filled several hydraulic systems, accounting to a total volume of roughly 190 Million m³. Three of those will be the focus of current research, as they can be seen as representative for other locations (tab. 1). Hawkins & Dunn (2007) describe a mine pool as follows:


“Hydrologically connected flooding mines combine to form large, high-volume mine pools that interact according to the degree of their interconnection”

Though the mine water, and partly the mine water outfalls, has been monitored and investigated since the 1980ies, not much is known about the hydrogeochemical development of the mine water or the hydrodynamic behaviour of the 26 hydraulic systems. Yet, knowing the temporal and spatial development of mine water contamination is crucial to plan remediation actions, such as diversions or mine water treatment schemes.

Tab. 1:  Mine pools (“hydraulic systems”) in the Sydney Coal Field that are of special concern within the next couple of years. The allocation of the mines to a hydraulic system is stipulated, based on practical concerns of management.

Mine Pool Mines within the Pool Discharge Volume
1B Lingan, Phalen, Nos. 1A, 1B, 2, 5, 9, 10, 20, 26 5.6 – 9.3 m³/min
12/14/16 Nos. 12, 14, 16, (18)
Princess Queen, Princess, Florence

Out of those mine pools within the Sydney Coal Field, the № 1B, the № 12/14/16, and the Princess mine pools are or will become of special concern in the next couple of years. Compared to the 1B mine pool, the other mine pools have not been studied in that detail. Therefore, the mine water research programme of Cape Breton University (CBU) in conjunction with Cape Breton Development Corporation (CBDC) will investigate the hydrogeochemistry and hydrodynamics of the mine water in order to minimize environmental impacts to surface and marine waters by installing active or passive treatment schemes at the most appropriate locations in the Sydney Coal Field. In doing so, the key issues of CBDC’s Board of Directors from February 2008 can be met:

  • Developing a mine water management plan
  • Site monitoring activities
  • Construction and management of mine water treatment systems
  • Long-term methodology and storage for corporate records

Within MinWaRep, the application of a Geothermal Programme was planned (“MinWaRep”), but the grant was not provided.


Prof. Dr Christian Wolkersdorfer

Deutsche Adresse Südafrikanische Adresse



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