US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Geology (2003) 45:35–57.


Metal cycling via physical and chemical weathering of discrete sources (copper mines) and regional (non-point) sources (sulfide-rich shale) is evaluated by examining the mineralogy and chemistry of weathering products in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, and North Carolina, USA. The elements in copper mine waste, secondary minerals, stream sediments, and waters that are most likely to have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems are aluminum, copper, zinc, and arsenic because these elements locally exceed toxicity guidelines for surface waters or for stream sediments. Acid-mine drainage has not developed in streams draining inactive copper mines. Acid-rock drainage and chemical weathering processes that accompany debris flows or human disturbances of sulfidic rocks are comparable to processes that develop acid-mine drainage elsewhere. Despite the high rainfall in the mountain range, sheltered areas and intermittent dry spells provide local venues for development of secondary weathering products that can impact aquatic ecosystems.