Mining impacts on coastal environments have been extensively studied around the world. However, the role of Submarine Groundwater Discharge (SGD) and Porewater Exchange (PEX) as pathways for pollutants from mining waste deposits into seawater has been largely overlooked. Portmán Bay is located in the Cartagena-La Unión Pb-Zn sulphur mining district in Murcia, SE of Spain. The disposal of about 60 million tons of metal-rich mine tailings from 1957 to 1990 led to the infill of most of the bay. Although the effects of metals on indicator organisms have been shown previously, there is a major lack of knowledge on the release of dissolved metals from the emerged tailing deposit into the sea, more than 25 years after the closure of the mining activities. Samples for Ra isotopes (223Ra, 224Ra, 226Ra and 228Ra) and dissolved metals (Ag, Cd, Co, Pb, Zn) were analyzed in porewaters and seawater in order to separately estimate SGD and PEX driven dissolved metal fluxes. Our results show a continuous release of dissolved metals into the sea driven by both PEX and SGD. Most of dissolved metals are remobilized and released into the water column by PEX, which is a ubiquitous mechanism acting along the shoreline. Although SGD only represents 13% of the water flow, it drives large fluxes of dissolved Fe into the sea, mainly restricted to the west side of the bay. Large inputs of dissolved Fe2+ from the anoxic tailings deposit trigger a massive precipitation of iron hydroxides that enables the removal of most dissolved metals from the water column. This study highlights the role of PEX and SGD as significant mechanisms for the land to ocean transfer of dissolved metals from coastal mine tailings deposits.
- Dissolved metals
- Porewater exchange
- Submarine groundwater discharge