The impact of acid mine drainage on the ecology of the Cradle of Humankind and Krugersdorp Game Reserve on the West Rand
The Witwatersrand Supergroup is the world’s richest goldbearing geological deposit. This approximately 2.8 milliard years old unit is overlain by the 2.71–2.67 milliard years Ventersdorp Supergroup which is in turn overlain by the 2.67–2.46 milliard years Chuniespoort Group of the Transvaal Supergroup. The dolomite-rich Chuniespoort Group also contains a large aquifer which supplies water to farms in southern Gauteng, southeastern North West Province and northern Free State. The megalitres of water in the dolomite flooding the adjacent gold mines in the Witwatersrand Supergroup need to be pumped out constantly to keep the mines operational. The gold mines in the Witwatersrand Supergroup are amongst the deepest mines in the world and those in Gauteng are up to 3 km deep. The mines of the Central Rand, the East Rand and the West Rand, which extend over an area of 100 km, were shut down, one after the other, as the gold ore was depleted to a depth of approximately 3 km and it became uneconomical to continue. The enormous mine void, occupying several million cubic metres, gradually started to fill up with groundwater again, causing the springs in the vicinity of the Witwatersrand mines to flow after more than a century of dewatering. The water flowing from these springs, however, is not clean dolomitic water but acid mine water containing a high concentration of sulphuric acid, sulphate salts and metals, including radioactive heavy metals. The auriferous geological layers constituting the Witwatersrand Supergroup also contain large quantities of iron pyrite (FeS2) which forms sulphuric acid when it comes into contact with water and oxygen. The deterioration of the ecology in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is a good example of the negative impact acid mine water has on the ecology.