Environmental Change Research Unit (ECRU), Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 65, FIN-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland. Electronic address: [Email]
The salinization of freshwater environments is a global concern, and one of the largest sources of salinated water is the mining industry. An increasing number of modern mines are working with low grade sulfide ores, resulting in increased volumes of potentially harmful saline drainage. We used water monitoring data, together with data on sedimentary fossil remains (cladoceran, diatom and chironomid), to analyze the spatio-temporal (5 sampling locations and 3 sediment depths) impact of salinated mine water originating from the Talvivaara/Terrafame open cast mine on multiple components of the aquatic ecosystem of Lake Jormasjärvi, Finland. Lake Jormasjärvi is the fourth and largest lake in a chain of lakes along the path of the mine water. Despite the location and large water volume, the mine water has changed the chemistry of Lake Jormasjärvi, reflected in increased electrical conductivity values since 2010. The ecological impact is significant around the inflow region of the lake, as all biological indicator groups show a rapid and directional shift towards new species composition. There is a clear trend in improved water quality as one moves further from the point of inflow, and as one looks back in time. Our results show that salinated mine water may induce rapid and large scale changes, even far downstream along a chain of several sinking basins. This is of special importance in cases where large amounts of waste water are processed in the vicinity of protected habitats.