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Effects of Dust Deposition on Glacier Ablation and Runoff at the Pascua-Lama Mining Project, Chile and Argentina

Authors: Lukas U. Arenson, Matthias Jakob, Pablo Wainstein,

Publish Date: 2015
Volume: , Issue:, Pages: 27-32
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Dust deposition on surficial ice bodies is common in many areas around the world. In the high and arid northern Chilean and Argentine Andes, the public fears the dust generated by mining activities would increase ice ablation and thus decrease downstream water availability. This fear is based on a poor understanding of the complex and non-linear interaction between dust and glacier ablation as well as the uncertainties about relative contribution of glacier containing watersheds to total runoff at the point of water use. The focus of this contribution is to assess impacts to down gradient water users resulting from increases in ablation due to dust. Depending on the thickness, type, frequency of deposition and concentration of the dust on the ice surface, a net increase or decrease in ice ablation may occur. While a thin dust cover reduces the surface albedo and hence increases ablation, a thicker cover increasingly acts as thermal insulation, thus reducing ice ablation and increasing the glacier’s longevity. Data from literature indicate that at less than 1 mm dust thickness ablation rates peak, resulting in ablation increases between 20 and 400 %. Field ablation tests and numerical dust distribution models for three different scenarios demonstrate that for the Andean site investigated, the downstream hydrological effects of mining-generated dust on glaciers and glacierets, at the first point of agricultural water use, are likely less than half a percent of the annual average river flow. This is largely due to the very small percent of glacial coverage upstream of the first water use point and is well below the local hydrological natural variability that is primarily driven by El Niño events.The authors would like to thank Barrick Gold Corporation, and in particular Ms. Susan Henry of Compañía Minera Nevada, for the permission to present these data. We also acknowledge the input from Virginia Cullen on an earlier version of this manuscript.



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