Skip to content
Main menu hidden.
Published: 2024-02-16 Updated: 2024-04-03, 13:46

Picturesque, but not pristine: mining-impacted lakes in Northern Sweden

NEWS As an important part of her research project, Doctoral student Camila Urrea went on scouting trips to several Northern lakes to both examine their accessibility and take samples of how nearby mining has impacted the lakes. The fieldwork was made possible by funding from Arctic Centre at Umeå University.

Camila Urrea is a Doctoral student at both the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science and the Arctic Graduate School. With approved funding from Arctic Centre, she was able to head out on several field trips which were important for her research.

Tell us more about the field trips

Urrea explains that during the year 2023, she has travelled to several lake sites in the inland of Västerbotten to scout them and take samples.

– Since my PhD project aims to untangle different facets of how metal mining impacts Northern Swedish lakes, fieldwork is critical! I spent weeks on identifying relevant closed, abandoned, active, and in-development mine sites that are hydrologically connected to vulnerable lakes. From this, I made a long list of lakes in Northern Sweden that I may want to sample. With this list, two of my supervisors, Åsa Berglund and Christian Bigler, and I set off to scout the lakes, Urrea shares.

She continues to explain how difficult these kinds of field trips can be when it comes to accessibility:

– Even with aerial imaging and digital maps, it is difficult to gauge how accessible these sites would be. For example, roads might be snowed in or closed off by the mining industry. So, a big part of the field trips was to also scout the accessibility of these lake sites. After two road trips, a few kilometers skied in the winter, and some boat trips in the autumn, we were able to successfully sample multiple lakes, and visually assess the accessibility of other sites that we may decide to return to next year, Urrea says.

What happens now, after the field trips?

– The following steps include running analyses on the collected samples to determine which sites are metal-contaminated and to what degree they are contaminated. Early preliminary results have shown that the lake Ruttjejaure in Adak, Sweden, has been severely impacted by the Adak mine of 1932–1977. The lake sediment is exceedingly high in arsenic, copper and zinc.

What did these field trips mean for you as a researcher?

– Apart from the opportunity to collect samples critical in materializing the initial stages of my research, this experience gave me a sense of pride for the importance of my research. After driving past and visiting mine sites of different scales that are both active and abandoned, I gained a deeper understanding of how the innerworkings of these sites truly impact not only the local environment, but the people in the area as well. During our sampling, we ran into a few locals and it was clear that they were worried about high metal (e.g., arsenic) and nutrient content in their nearby lakes, Urrea explains.

What significance did the field trips have for the Arctic?

Urrea deems that it is critical to understand how these lakes are being impacted by the mining industry.

– As society moves towards the green transition and a post-carbon society, the green industry has seen a rapid increase in demand for minerals. The northern Swedish bedrock is particularly rich in the minerals needed to fuel this energy. This coupled with climate change and the increased availability of mineable land for a longer period, the Swedish Arctic and subarctic are particularly vulnerable to metal mining exploitation and parallel environmental consequences. Currently, there are hundreds of active, closed, and abandoned mines around Northern Sweden, and these vulnerable ecosystems recover more slowly from disturbances, she develops.

She concludes with what she hopes to contribute with:

– Hopefully, our overall findings will contribute to the development of reliable and tailored environmental guidelines that promote sustainable mining.

Maria Camila Urrea
Doctoral student