Characteristics and processes of hydrogeochemical evolution induced by long-term mining activities in karst aquifers, southwestern China

  • He Huang
  • Zhihua ChenEmail author
  • Tao Wang
  • Liang Zhang
  • Gaoming Zhou
  • Bangtao Sun
  • Yong Wang
Research Article


Long-term mining activities reshape the hydraulic and hydrochemical field, and threaten the safe use of groundwater and ecosystem balance. Here, we concluded the evolution characteristics and processes of karst groundwater system based on the water level and hydrochemistry data of the Carboniferous and Devonian aquifer in Maoping lead-zinc deposit, a representative in southwestern China. After concentrated mining lasting for nearly three decades, this mining area has generated a huge depression cone coupled with decreased level, changed flowpath, massive drainage, and direct hydraulic connection across the aquiclude. However, these two sets of karst aquifers exhibited distinct hydrochemical evolution patterns in particular with respect to sulfate. SO42− and the total dissolved solids (TDS) increased slightly in the Carboniferous aquifer and maintained the hydrochemical type of HCO3 and HCO3·SO4. While, SO42− and TDS in the Devonian aquifer decreased drastically, and the hydrochemical type was converted from SO4 and SO4·HCO3 to HCO3 and HCO3·SO4. Before concentrated mining, pyrite oxidation and dissolution of carbonate minerals mutually promoted each other in sluggish groundwater flow, then generated abnormally high concentrations of SO42−, Ca2+, and Mg2+ in Devonian karst aquifer, causing an illusion of saturation state of gypsum dissolution. At present, SO42− is mainly derived from pyrite oxidation indicated by sulfur isotope except deep groundwater contributed by gypsum dissolution. Groundwater quality in the Devonian aquifer was improved together by the dilution of northern shallow groundwater from the external Carboniferous aquifer and upward recharge of southern deep groundwater itself. Results of principal component analysis (PCA) verified the different recharge resources and mixing process resulted from continuous mining activities, which were the driving forces of hydrochemical evolution. Qualitatively speaking, the disturbing degree of the hydrodynamic field was consistent with the variation degree of hydrochemical filed. This research shed light upon the groundwater system and its evolution induced by intensive mining, which will benefit the future mining project.


Karst aquifers Hydrochemical evolution Pyrite oxidation Mining activities Southwestern China 



The authors are thankful for the assistance in sampling and analysis work given by Caijuan Xiang, Zhongming An, and Junhong Lian. We also appreciate these valuable comments given by the reviewers and the editor.

Funding information

This research was funded by the China University of Geosciences and Yiliang Chihong Mining Co. Ltd. (No. 2016046177).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • He Huang
    • 1
  • Zhihua Chen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tao Wang
    • 1
  • Liang Zhang
    • 1
  • Gaoming Zhou
    • 2
  • Bangtao Sun
    • 2
  • Yong Wang
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Environmental StudiesChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.Yiliang Chihong Mining Co., Ltd.ZhaotongChina

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