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Scientists collaborate on new technique to sequester heavy metals

Yukon Research Centre

Yukon Research Centre (YRC) scientists have just received a research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to study a new method of sequestering heavy metals for mine site restoration.

Soil scientist, Dr. Katherine Stewart, and water chemist, Dr. Amelie Janin have combined disciplines to examine how to prevent the transfer of heavy metals to plants and water by using leonardite, a naturally occurring carbon-rich mineral. The scientists predict that heavy metals in mine tailings will bond to the leonardite, preventing plant absorption and water transportation of the metals. They also hypothesize that the leonardite will assist in revegetation by retaining nutrients and moisture in the soil, conditions beneficial for plant growth.

“By combining both chemistry and biology, we are taking a more comprehensive approach to environmental restoration than what is traditionally used”, said Dr. Katherine Stewart, Research Associate, Yukon Research Centre. “We are wielding together two areas of expertise at the Yukon Research Centre to address and hopefully solve a challenge for mine sites in the North”, said Dr. Stewart.

Dr. Stewart and Dr. Janin’s research will take place in the Yukon Research Centre’s laboratory, with the use of Cold Climate Innovation’s 4-season greenhouse, and the newly purchased metal analyzer machine. Yukon College students from three different program areas have been hired to support this research over the next six months.

“Expanding northern research and innovation is a priority for Yukon College, as evidenced by our focus on connecting our Yukon Research Centre and the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining”, said Dr. Karen Barnes, President, Yukon College. “Involving students in this unique research illustrates our commitment to expanding the culture and capacity to conduct research within the College and support the mining industry”, said Dr. Barnes.

Researchers and their students have already begun working on the leonardite research by preparing the greenhouse for planting. The plants and water will be analyzed in the coming months with the project scheduled for completion by the fall.

In addition to the NSERC funding, support for this project has come from the industrial partner, Wapaw Bay Resources Inc., and Dr. Janin’s position as the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Mine Life Cycle. Janin is working with the Yukon mining industry to develop a business-focused applied research program on reclamation activities throughout the mine life cycle.

The Yukon Research Centre (YRC) at Yukon College has seven key programs: Biodiversity Monitoring, Cold Climate Innovation, Northern Climate ExChange, NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Mine Life Cycle, Technology Innovation, Science Adventures, and Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic. Core funding for the Yukon Research Centre is provided by Yukon Education and funding for Cold Climate Innovation is provided by Yukon Economic Development.

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