From tailings to soil: long-term effects of amendments on progress and trajectory of soil formation and in situ remediation in bauxite residue
Bauxite residue is an alkaline, saline-sodic byproduct of the Bayer process for alumina production. In situ remediation of bauxite residue is a cost-effective management strategy that transforms the residue into a soil-like medium; however, the effects of applied amendments on trajectories and progress of soil formation over the medium-long term are unclear. Here, we investigated how in situ remediation amendments guided the progress and trajectories of soil formation in bauxite residue over 20 years.
Materials and methods
Chemical and mineralogical properties of samples from a field site in Corpus Christi, Texas, were analyzed to compare the effects of three different amendments (sewage sludge, yard waste, and topsoil) on progress and trajectories of soil formation in bauxite residue. Bauxite residue was deposited ca. 40 years prior to sampling; amendments were applied at varying frequencies for 20 years prior to sampling.
Results and discussion
Sewage sludge was the most effective amendment for decreasing pH, EC, and total alkalinity of bauxite residue and increasing plant nutrients and exchangeable cations. Overall soil development is in an early stage; however, incipient soil horizons were identified from differences in chemical and mineralogical properties with depth. Although amendment type influenced the progress of soil formation, it did not appear to influence the overall trajectory of soil formation processes. Soil derived from the bauxite residue parent material is likely to progress from a spolic Technosol to a technic Cambisol and finally either a Ferralsol or Luvisol depending on organic matter dynamics.
Long-term impacts of amendments were consistent with those observed in previous short-term studies, with some outcomes improving further over the long term (e.g., Na+ leaching) and were realized to a depth enabling maintenance of a vegetation cover. These outcomes provide strong support for the use of in situ remediation as an alternative to soil capping that enables transformation of bauxite residue to a soil capable of supporting a self-sustaining ecosystem.
KeywordsBauxite residue Soil formation Tailings remediation Technosol
The authors thank the Alcoa Corpus Christi field team led by Steve Zielonka and Keith Schmidt for assistance with field work and Stephen Leavy of Alcoa of Australia Limited (Kwinana) for arranging sample transport and access to analytical equipment. Part of this research was undertaken on the powder diffraction beamline (10BM1) at the Australian Synchrotron, Victoria, Australia, and the authors thank Justin Kimpton and Qinfen Gu for the assistance with XRD analyses on this beamline. The authors also thank Ian Madsen (CSIRO Process Science and Engineering) for coding the TOPAS macro used for XRD sample geometry corrections and for the advice regarding Rietveld refinement. This research was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award, a UWA Geoffrey Kennedy Postgraduate Research Travel Award, and funding from the Minerals and Energy Research Institute of Western Australia, Alcoa of Australia Limited, and BHP Billiton Worsley Alumina Pty Ltd.
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