A Discussion on the Damage Affected by Large Scale Mines on the Environment and Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), a Tool of Managing It

The last several decades have made at least one truth readily apparent to those who take the time to look at the evidence: extractive industries, such as the oil and mining sectors, have wreaked havoc on the environment all across the world. On top of this, it appears that much of this effect will continue into the future if current practices go unabated. With this in mind, this project proposal seeks to address the damage affected by large scale mines in a specific, practicable, and responsible way. For now, the project presents a summary of the topics most relevant to this issue, as well as an outline of how this topic will be undertaken in the final project. This short summary provides an examination the environmental damage of large mines like the one in question here, an overview of the scanning electron microscope (SEM) technology in relation to mining and environmental sustainability, a discussion of Giant Mine in Yellowknife Bay (Canada), the provision of the major research question proposed for the project, and finally a discussion of why this question and overarching issue is important for mining moving into the future.

First of all, it is crucial to examine the environment impact that large mining operations have. As one source states, "Mining is the first step in the dirty life cycle of coal"; more specifically, the source states that when mines require earth to be upturned, “minerals and heavy metals within it can dissolve into mine wastewater and seep into the water table. This increases risk of chemical contamination of groundwater and acid mine drainage” (GI, 2016, n.p.). This is what has been seen with Giant Mine, as discussed more specifically below. This is confirmed by another source more generally, which states that "When rain washes the loosened top soil into streams, sediments pollute waterways. This can hurt fish and smother plant life downstream, and cause disfiguration of river channels and streams, which leads to flooding” (Enviro, 2015, n.p.). While these sources may be slightly biased, they nevertheless point out the potential for detrimental impact.

With this in mind, the project turns both to Giant Mine as a specific example of how this environmental impact can be measured and managed, and to scanning electron microscope (SEM) technology as an example of a tool for this measurement and management. First, Giant Mineis located in Canada and has shown high concentrations of arsenic in the surrounding area and waters: “Although Baker Creek inputs may be relatively low in As at present, submerged and buried sediments in Yellowknife Bay that were previously contaminated with As may continue to act as sources to surface waters" (Andrade et al., 2010, 199). This has resulted in significant damage to the area: "The case of the Giant Mine illustrates how a large, long-lived Au mine has resulted in a complex regional legacy of As contamination and an estimated remediation cost of almost one billion Canadian dollars” (Jamieson, 2014, 533). In this way, the mine represents a great case study both for the use of SEM and for the environmental and social aspects of mining that this research project is concerned with.

Second, and in simple terms, SEM provides a detailed look at the mineralogy and metallurgical makeup of specific mines. As one source states, "Modern digital mine planning, plant design and mineral processing operations demand detailed characterization of the ore and plant feed” (Fandrich et al., 2007, 310). This is precisely what SEM provides. As another source states, “These technologies...have the potential to revolutionize how we quantify mineralogy; during measurement, the sample textures are also captured, providing a wealth of valuable data for the geologist" (Pirrie & Rollinson, 2011, 226). The project will therefore turn to SEM as the primary promise for adequate management of mines. The research question is as follows: What are the detrimental impacts at the mineralogical level of mines lie Giant Mine, and how can new technologies like SEM be used to curb this in the future? A secondary research question suggested for the project is as follows: How does the development at Giant Mine reflect the relationship between mining operations, communities, and the environment more broadly, and how can technologies like SEM be used to manage, or at the very least, mitigate these tense relationships? This topic is important to address because it bridges the gap between the scientific (such as the development of SEM) and the institutionally social, including environmental sustainability and the relationships that go with it.


  1. Andrade, C.F. et al. (2010). Biogeocehmical redox cycling of arsenic in mine-impacted lake sediments and co-existing pore waters near Giant Mine, Yellowknife Bay, Canada. Applied Geochemistry 25: 199-211.
  2. Enviro. (2015). Effects of mining on the environment and human health. Enviro Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.environment.co.za/mining-2/effects-of-mining.html
  3. Fandrich, R. et al. (2007). Modern SEM-based mineral liberation analysis. International Journal of Mineral Processing 84: 310-320.
  4. GI. (2016). About coal mining impacts. Greenpeace International. Retrieved from: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/coal/Coal-mining impacts/ 
  5. Jamieson, H.E. (2014). The legacy of arsenic contamination from mining and processing refractory gold ore at Giant Mine, Yellknow, Northwest Territories, Canada. Reviews in mineralogy & Geochemistry 79: 533-551.
  6. Pirrie, D. & Rollinson, G.K. (2011). Unlocking the applications of automated mineral analysis. Geology Today 27 (6): 226-235.