In June 2020, the Revegetation Industry-Academic Research Cooperative of the University of Arizona’s Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining (CESM) held its annual research meeting with its four participating Arizona copper companies.
Over the last six years, CESM’s Revegetation Research Cooperative has identified and measured belowground indicators of soil health as a novel strategy that can be used by copper mines to track and monitor their own revegetation success. During the half-day meeting, the center’s director and Superfund co-PI, Dr. Julie Neilson, presented six years of data from the participating mines that sparked discussion on post-mining land use decision-making and management practices. The academic-industry meeting also spurred conversation about long-term monitoring metrics that could be adopted by regulatory agencies for more accurate assessment of revegetation timelines and ecological succession important to land reclamation and waste containment.
This annual research meeting provides a highly effective research translation mechanism for participating mines that are all owned by international companies with global reach. The research topics are initiated by this diverse cross-section of companies with revegetation challenges that include reclamation of mine tailings and waste rock, using different tailings capping materials and revegetation management practices in varied ecosystems (desert versus chaparral). Despite these apparent differences, the Cooperative’s work over the last six years has uncovered some common revegetation learnings that can be applied across all the participating mines.
In this unique inter-mine collaboration, the Cooperative creates an opportunity for participating mines to collaboratively discuss revegetation challenges and share expertise that could influence waste management practices. Additionally, the mining industry highly values the unbiased assessment provided by the university of their revegetation practices. This overwhelmingly positive response from the mining industry is indicated by the fact that the number of participating companies has increased since 2014, with an expected total of six mines by 2021.
CESM is associated with the University of Arizona’s Department of Environmental Science and the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources. It was founded by environmental microbiologist Raina M. Maier, PhD, and geologist Mary Poulton, PhD.