Spain, AV & Tibbett, M 2012, 'Coal mine tailings: development after revegetation with salttolerant tree species', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2012: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Mine Closure
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 551-562, https://doi.org/10.36487/ACG_rep/1208_47_Spain
Coal mine tailings are often hostile media in which to grow plants. This paper reports selected physical and chemical properties of alkaline saline-sodic tailings 1.4 and 9.4 years after deposition in three experimental tailings storage facilities (TSFs). This study included the effects on the tailings of three moderately salt-tolerant tree species grown on their surfaces during the last 7.6 years of this period.
Few changes occurred to the physical properties of the vegetated or unvegetated tailings over this period apart from strength increases associated with drying and settling. Chemical changes over this period included lower salinity (as EC), Na and S concentrations beneath the tree canopies which were associated with reduced site irradiance. No pedologically meaningful changes to properties reflecting soil organic matter or the concentrations of other elements were apparent. It is concluded that meaningful pedological development in these wastes is likely to require lengthy periods.
The tailings materials of a seasonal wetland studied in one of the TSFs showed materials differences due to deposition of non-tailings materials eroded from upslope. Salinity was substantially reduced in the near-surface materials due to extensive leaching and lower C and N concentrations indicated a reduced organic matter content; further, the lower C:N ratio may indicate a different type of organic matter associated with the wetland vegetation present.
It is concluded that for successful direct rehabilitation of tailings, careful evaluation is required of the physical, chemical and biological properties that potentially limit plant growth. The plant species to be initially established must be chosen for their tolerance of potentially growth limiting properties, particularly extremes of pH and salinity. Where tailings properties exceed tolerance limits of the species to be established or plant nutrient element supply limits growth, the materials may need to be ameliorated. In the field, particular attention to drainage of these fine-textured materials is critical to plant success. Pedological development of these fine-textured wastes is considered to require extended time periods, even under optimal conditions.
Barrett-Lennard, E. (2003) The interaction between waterlogging and salinity in higher plants: causes, consequences and implications, Plant and Soil, 253, pp. 35–54.
Binkley, D. and Menyailo, O. (2005) Gaining insights on the effects of tree species on soils, Tree Species Effects on Soils: Implications for Global Change, D. Binkley and O. Menyailo (eds), Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 1–16.
Bureau of Meteorology (2012) Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. Summary statistics Amberley AMO, viewed 15 May 2012,
Chapman, B., Milnes, A.R., Carras, J.N., Corbett, L.W., Kirby, J.M., Soole, K.P., Spain, A.V. and Wright, M. (1995) Report on rehabilitation research program at Ebenezer Coal Mine, Willowbank, Queensland, unpublished report, CSIRO Minesite Rehabilitation Research Program, Adelaide.
Coventry, R.J. and Fett, D.E.F. (1979) A pipette and sieve method of particle-size analysis and some observations on its efficiency, CSIRO Division of Soils, Divisional Report No. 38, 26 pp.
DERM (1995) Department of Environment and Resource Management, Rehabilitation of spontaneous combustion areas. viewed 16 May 2012,
EPA (1986) Environmental Protection Agency, Toxicity characteristic leach procedure, Federal Register, 51, No. 114, June 13 1986, (Proposed rules – Part 261 – Appendix 11), viewed 16 May 2012,
Fisher, M.J., Rao, I.M., Ayarza, M.A., Lascano, C.E., Sanz, J.I., Thomas, R.J. and Vera, R.R. (1994) Carbon storage by introduced deep-rooted grasses in the South American savannas, Nature, Vol. 371, pp. 236–238.
Fourie, A.B. (2009) Preventing catastrophic failures and mitigating environmental impacts of tailings storage facilities, Procedia Earth and Planetary Science, 1(1), pp. 1067–1071.
Fourie, A.B. and Tibbett, M. (2007) Engineering a biological system, in Proceedings: Second International Seminar on Mine Closure (Mine Closure 2007), A.B. Fourie, M. Tibbett and J.V. Wiertz (eds), 16–19 October 2007, Santiago, Chile, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 3–12, ISBN 978-0-9804185-0-7.
Fourie, A.B., Tibbett, M. and De Jong, J. (2012) The fallacy of designing for in-perpetuity: geotechnical presumptions, ecosystem responses and concepts for managing inevitable change, in Proceedings Seventh International Conference on Mine Closure (Mine Closure 2012), A.B. Fourie and M. Tibbett (eds), 25‒27 September 2012, Brisbane, Australia, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 127–136.
Gray, D.H. (1995) The influence of vegetation on the stability of slopes, Vegetation and Slopes: Stabilisation, Protection and Ecology, D.H. Barker (ed), Thomas Telford Services, London, pp. 2–25.
Hazleton, P. and Murphy, B. (2007) Interpreting soil test results, What Do All the Numbers Mean?, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, 152 p.
Hobbie, S.E., Ogdahl, M., Chorover, J., Chadwick, O.A., Oleksyn, J., Zytkowiak, R. and Reich, P.B. (2007) Tree species effects on soil organic matter dynamics: the role of soil cation composition, Ecosystems, Vol. 10, pp. 999–1018.
Kabata-Pendias, A. (2011) Trace elements in soils and plants, 4th edition, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 520 p.
Kabata-Pendias, A. and Mukherjee, A.B. (2007) Trace elements from soil to human, Springer, Berlin, 550 p.
Kajita, L.S. (1997) An improved contaminant resistant clay for environmental clay liner applications, Clays and Clay Minerals, Vol. 45, pp. 609–617.
Kon, L.C., Durucan, S. and Korre, A. (2007) The development and application of a wind erosion model for the assessment of fugitive dust emissions from mine tailings dumps, International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environment, Vol. 21, pp. 198–218.
Lavelle, P. and Spain, A.V. (2001) Soil ecology, Kluwer Academic Publications, Dordrecht, 654 p.
McDonald, R.C. and Isbell, R.F. (1998) Soil profile, Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook, 2nd edition, reprinted, Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Project, Canberra, pp. 103–152.
Marcar, N.E. and Crawford, D.F. (2004) Trees for saline landscapes, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Barton, ACT, 235 p.
Mendez, M.O. and Maier, R.M. (2008) Phytostabilization of mine tailings in arid and semiarid environments—an emerging remediation technology, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, pp. 278–283.
Norrish, K. and Rosser, H. (1983) Mineral phosphate, Soils: An Australian Viewpoint, Division of Soils, CSIRO, Melbourne and Academic Press, London, pp. 335–361.
Rayment, G.E. and Higginson, F.R. (1992) Australian laboratory handbook of soil and water chemical methods, Inkata Press, Melbourne, 330 p.
Smith, R.E.W. (1998) Preliminary Assessment of the ecotoxicology of tailings dam water at the Ebenezer Coal Mine, Willowbank, Queensland, CSIRO Exploration and Mining Report No. 543C, 20 p.
Spain, A.V. and Hettipathirana, T.D. (2000a) Properties of waters, selected spoil and overburden materials from the Purga Pit, Ebenezer Mine, Willowbank, Queensland, CSIRO Land and Water consultancy report to Ebenezer Mining Company, 94 p.
Spain, A.V. and Hettipathirana, T.D. (2000b) Concentrations of selected elements and other properties of the tailings dam waters, Ebenezer Mine, Willowbank, Queensland, CSIRO Land and Water consultancy report to Ebenezer Mining Company, 24 p.
Spain, A.V. and Tibbett, M. (2011) Substrate conditions, root and arbuscular mycorrhizal colonisation of landforms rehabilitated after coal mining, sub-tropical Queensland, in Proceedings Sixth International Conference on Mine Closure (Mine Closure 2011), A.B. Fourie, M. Tibbett and A. Beersing (eds), 19–21 September 2011, Lake Louise, Canada, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, Vol. 1, pp. 199–208
Spain, A.V., Isbell, R.F. and Probert, M.E. (1983) Organic matter contents of Australian soils, Soils: An Australian Viewpoint, CSIRO, Melbourne/Academic Press, London, pp. 551–563.
Spain, A.V., Tibbett, M. and Worrall, R. (2010a) Land rehabilitation studies at the Ebenezer Mine, Ipswich, Queensland – 1998 to 2007. Volume I: The soils and near-surface wastes of selected rehabilitated waste rock dumps at Ebenezer Mine, unpublished report to Idemitsu Australia Resources Pty Ltd, Brisbane, Centre for Land Rehabilitation, The University of Western Australia, report reference: CLR-10-01-C/CSIRO Earth Sciences and Resource Engineering, Report: EP106663, 185pp., ISBN: 978-1-74052-198-7).
Spain, A.V., Tibbett, M., Smernik, R.J. and Worrall, R. (2010b) Land rehabilitation studies at the Ebenezer Coal Mine, Ipswich, Queensland – 1998 to 2007, Volume II: Ebenezer tailings: experimental landforms, materials properties, pedogenic activity and tree growth, unpublished report to Idemitsu Australia Resources Pty Ltd, Brisbane, report reference CLR-10-02-C, Centre for Land Rehabilitation, University of Western Australia, Report Reference CLR-10-02-C/CSIRO Earth Sciences and Resource Engineering, Report EP106664, 300pp., ISBN: 978-1-74052-199-4.
Spain, A.V., Hinz, D.A., Ludwig, J., Tibbett, M. and Tongway, D. (2006) Mine closure and ecosystem development: Alcan Gove bauxite mine, NT, Australia, in Proceedings First International Seminar on Mine Closure (Mine Closure 2006), A.B. Fourie and M. Tibbett (eds), 13–15 September 2006, Perth, Australia, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 299–308, ISBN 0-9756756-6-4.
Tibbett, M., Spain, A.V., Worrall, R., Tapsall, B. and Edmonds-Tibbett, T.L. (2010) Rehabilitation studies at the Ebenezer Mine, Ipswich, Queensland – 1998 to 2007, Volume III: Nutritional constraints to plant growth on six diverse materials, Unpublished report to Idemitsu Australia Resources Pty Ltd, Brisbane, Centre for Land Rehabilitation, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Report Reference: CLR-10-03-C/CSIRO Earth Sciences and Resource Engineering, Brisbane, Report: EP106665, 32pp., ISBN: 978-1-74052-200-7.
Weiersbye, I.M. (2007) Global review and cost comparison of conventional and phytotechnologies for mine closure, in Proceedings Second International Seminar on Mine Closure (Mine Closure 2007), A.B. Fourie, M. Tibbett and J.V. Wiertz (eds), 16–19 October 2007, Santiago, Chile, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 13–30, ISBN 978-0-9804185-0-7.
Worrall, R.C., Spain, A.V. and Tibbett, M. (2008) Establishment of native tree species on coal tailings – lessons from Ebenezer Mine, Queensland, Australia, in Proceedings Third International Seminar on Mine Closure (Mine Closure 2008), A.B. Fourie, M. Tibbett, I.M. Weiersbye and P. Dye (eds), 1417 October 2008, Johannesburg, South Africa, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 739–750, ISBN 978-0-9804185-6-9.