Copper isotope fractionation in acid mine drainage

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
By: , and 



We measured the Cu isotopic composition of primary minerals and stream water affected by acid mine drainage in a mineralized watershed (Colorado, USA). The δ65Cu values (based on 65Cu/63Cu) of enargite (δ65Cu = −0.01 ± 0.10‰; 2σ) and chalcopyrite (δ65Cu = 0.16 ± 0.10‰) are within the range of reported values for terrestrial primary Cu sulfides (−1‰ < δ65Cu < 1‰). These mineral samples show lower δ65Cu values than stream waters (1.38‰  δ65Cu  1.69‰). The average isotopic fractionation (Δaq-min = δ65Cuaq  δ65Cumin, where the latter is measured on mineral samples from the field system), equals 1.43 ± 0.14‰ and 1.60 ± 0.14‰ for chalcopyrite and enargite, respectively. To interpret this field survey, we leached chalcopyrite and enargite in batch experiments and found that, as in the field, the leachate is enriched in 65Cu relative to chalcopyrite (1.37 ± 0.14‰) and enargite (0.98 ± 0.14‰) when microorganisms are absent. Leaching of minerals in the presence of Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans results in smaller average fractionation in the opposite direction for chalcopyrite (Δaq-mino=-0.57±0.14‰, where mino refers to the starting mineral) and no apparent fractionation for enargite (Δaq-mino=0.14±0.14‰). Abiotic fractionation is attributed to preferential oxidation of 65Cu+at the interface of the isotopically homogeneous mineral and the surface oxidized layer, followed by solubilization. When microorganisms are present, the abiotic fractionation is most likely not seen due to preferential association of 65Cuaq with A. ferrooxidans cells and related precipitates. In the biotic experiments, Cu was observed under TEM to occur in precipitates around bacteria and in intracellular polyphosphate granules. Thus, the values of δ65Cu in the field and laboratory systems are presumably determined by the balance of Cu released abiotically and Cu that interacts with cells and related precipitates. Such isotopic signatures resulting from Cu sulfide dissolution should be useful for acid mine drainage remediation and ore prospecting purposes.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Copper isotope fractionation in acid mine drainage
Series title Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
DOI 10.1016/j.gca.2008.11.035
Volume 73
Issue 5
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 17 p.
First page 1247
Last page 1263
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