GeoBioTec Research Unit - Department of Geosciences, Campus de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal; CESAM Associated Lab - Department of Biology, Campus de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal. Electronic address: [Email]
This paper is focused on the hydrogeochemical characterization of the Negro River along its course, as well as in the proposal of a functioning model for the contamination processes in order to establish potential cause-effect relationships between water quality, geology (ARD), mining activities (AMD) and the tectonic framework as transmission vector of acidity, metals and sulphates. The scenario shows a heavily-contaminated river compared to the unaffected regional background. By graphical and statistical treatments of physico-chemical data of Negro River and the unaffected values of regional background and other AMD/ARD representative rivers' it is possible to conclude that Antamina Mine, is not the cause of the Negro River contamination, without the need of isotopic tracers, but just through the inexistent concentrations of Cu, Bi and Mo found in the waters. In the proposed contamination model, climatic factors (glacial retreat) activate geological (ARD) processes. The tectonic scenario (faults) intervenes as a transport medium of the contamination flux from the sulphide oxidation surface in upper altitudes until the spring in lower altitudes. At the end, it is concluded that this contamination comes from the recent glacial retreat in areas near the Cordillera Blanca that has left massive amounts of sulphide materials exposed to weathering conditions, oxidizing naturally (ARD processes) and finally contributing to the contamination of the Negro River through faults. In this case, we would face an ARD process in the strict sense, which is the direct oxidation of sulphides outcropping in the upper part of the mountain with the generation of sulphates, the release of hydrogen ions and the consequent generation of acid and the dissolution of the metals. This ARD process would come from the glacial retreat, which, through the faults, transports contaminated water until the spring.