US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Chemical Geology 215 (2005) 453– 472.


Prior to remediation at the abandoned Cu–Zn Penn Mine in the Foothills massive sulfide belt of the Sierra Nevada, CA, acid mine drainage (AMD) was created, in part, by the subaerial oxidation of sulfides exposed on several waste piles. To support remediation efforts, a mineralogical study of the waste piles was undertaken by acquiring reflectance spectra (measured in the visible to short-wave infrared range of light (0.35–2.5 μm) using a portable, digitally integrated pen tablet PC mapping system with differential global positioning system and laser rangefinder support. Analysis of the spectral data made use of a continuum removal and band-shape comparison method, and of reference spectral libraries of end-member minerals and mineral mixtures. Identification of secondary Fe-bearing minerals focused on band matching in the region between 0.43 and 1.3 μm. Identification of sheet and other silicates was based on band-shape analysis in the region between 1.9 and 2.4 μm. Analysis of reflectance spectra of characterized rock samples from the mine helped in gauging the spectral response to particle size and mixtures. The resulting mineral maps delineated a pattern of accumulation of secondary Fe minerals, wherein centers of copiapite and jarosite that formed at low pH (<3) were surrounded successively by goethite and hematite, which mark progressive increases in pH. This pattern represents the evolution of acid solutions discharged from the pyritic waste piles and the subsequent accumulation of secondary precipitates by hydrolysis reactions. The results highlight the high capacity of the pyritic waste to release further acid mine drainage into the environment, as well as the effectiveness of the mapping method to detect subtle changes in surface mineralogy and to produce maps useful to agencies responsible for remediating the site.