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Potential for using trees to limit the ingress of water into mine workings : a comparison of total evaporation and soil water relations for eucalyptus and grassland .

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Current mining methods used to extract coal from underground mine workings disturb the natural environment and the existing stable geological structures. As a result, the ingress of water into the mines increases and the quality of the water passing through the mine workings deteriorates, irrespective of the operational status of the mines. Water ingress is generated by regional aquifers, local aquifers, recharge from the surface through rainfall, natural drainage paths on the surface, and surface water bodies. The quality of water in the mines deteriorates as a result of contact with the remaining coal in the mine workings. Mining can therefore cause an increased influx of water into a mine and the degradation of this water. The solution to reducing the impact of mines on the environment is to prevent, or at least reduce, the amount of water entering the mines, and to manage this water to prevent further degradation in water quality. This study focused on afforestation with Eucalyptus viminalis trees to manage or inhibit ingress of water into underground mine workings. The hypothesis of this study was that a change in vegetation, from grassland to fast-growing and potentially high water-using trees like Eucalyptus. could possibly reduce the drainage of water below the root-zone and into the mine workings. The hypothesis was tested by estimating the components of the soil water balance for a grassland site and a Eucalyptus tree site. The research site was situated in Mpumalanga, (260 36' Sand 290 08' E, 1650 m a.m.s.l.), one of South Africa's major coal bearing areas. Although the Secunda area is a treeless environment and conditions are not optimal for forestry, some Eucalyptus species are suited for conditions (frost and periodic droughts) encountered in this area. The soil water balance of grassland and E. viminalis trees were studied through a field experiment and a long-term (30 years) modelling exercise. Total evaporation of the grassland site was estimated using the Bowen ratio energy balance technique. The transpiration of six representative E. viminalis trees were estimated using the heat pulse velocity technique. The soil water storage changes at both sites were determined from the soil water content, estimated using water content reflectometers. Measurements were performed in a smectic clay soil which resulted in measurements difficulties. Vertical cracks were formed under soil drying. To establish the importance of climate and plant growth on the drainage beyond the root-zone, the soil water balance of a grassland and an E. viminalis site were simulated over a 30-year period with the Soil Water Atmosphere Plant (SWAP) model. It was concluded from the comparative field experiment and modelling, that a change in vegetation from grassland to E. viminalis will reduce the drainage of water below the root-zone, especially under above-average rainfall conditions. The reduction in drainage beyond the root-zone at the E. viminalis sites, compared to the grassland site, was demonstrated in the modelling exercise and can be deduced from the total evaporation and soil water storage estimated at both sites. The results from the field experiment confirmed the modelling results and showed that usually there were higher transpiration rates for the E. viminalis tree site, compared to the grassland site. The higher transpiration rates for E. viminalis trees resulted in lower relative saturation of soil layers and lower profile soil water contents at the E. viminalis site, and higher daily soil water storage changes at the E. viminalis site compared to the grassland site. These differences were more pronounced during winter when the grassland was dormant. The results from the modelling exercise showed that an E. viminalis tree stand, with a closed canopy, reduced drainage below the root-zone compared to a grassland. The drainage at the grassland site contributed to up to 54 % of the rainfall, compared to the 43 % at the E. viminalis site. However, under below-average rainfall conditions the annual drainage at both sites, were similar. Further, the absolute magnitude of the drainage was similar to the total evaporation at the grassland site under certain conditions. The results not only suggest that a change in vegetation, from grassland to E. viminalis trees, would reduce the drainage beyond the root-zone, but that it may delay the onset of drainage. Under above-average rainfall conditions, the modelled drainage at the E. viminalis site only exceeded 20 mm, a month later than at the grassland site. The simulation results also showed that under conditions of aboveaverage rainfall, drainage occurs whenever the rainfall exceeds the long-term average rainfall, irrespective of the existing vegetation. However, when the rainfall is belowaverage drainage at both sites are limited to large rainfall events. This simulation showed that over a period of eight years, E. viminalis trees could potentially reduce the drainage by 1235 mm more than grassland, which is equivalent to 1540 m3 ha- I a-I, or 1.54 Me ha- I a-I. The annual average reduction in drainage below the root-zone caused by E. viminalis trees (1.79 Mf ha-1 a-\ is a small reduction when compared to the influx of water into mineworkings. E.g. the influx of water into a bord-and-pillar mine range between 0.5 and 4 Mt d-I per area mined and up to 17000 Mt d-I per area mined under high extraction mining (Hodgson and Krantz, 1998; Hodgson et aI., 2001). This work gave a comprehensive account of the differences in the soil water relations of grassland and E. viminalis trees overlying coal mine working. Few other studies in South Africa compared the total evaporation and soil water relations of grassland and E. viminalis trees in so much detail. State of the art monitoring techniques were used and produced valuable comparison of their use in expansive clay profiles. The work should contribute to management decisions focussed on limiting ingress of water into mine workings.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2003.


Mine water., Mine water--Management., Mine drainage., Coal mines and mining., Eucalyptus., Theses--Agrometeorology.