Authors: Sciacca, JE; Wielinga, BW; Johnson, BS; Riese, AC; Andrews, CB

Open access courtesy of:


Cite As:
Sciacca, JE, Wielinga, BW, Johnson, BS, Riese, AC & Andrews, CB 2023, 'Attenuation of acid rock drainage from buffering by naturally occurring calcite at the Leviathan Sulfur Mine, California', in B Abbasi, J Parshley, A Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2023: Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth,

Download citation as:   ris   bibtex   endnote   text   Zotero

The former Leviathan Sulfur Mine is located within the East Fork Carson River drainage of California and Nevada. The sulfur was deposited as part of a high sulfidation epithermal system common to the Walker Lane structural belt. Acid rock drainage (ARD) occurs at the site and has impacted groundwater and surface water. The oxidation of pyrite and, to a lesser extent arsenopyrite and sulfur, within hydrothermally altered ore rock and mine spoil (waste), is the source of ARD. The ARD is characterized by low pH, and high sulfate and metals concentrations. Calcite is present within unaltered country rock, comprised of volcanic and volcaniclastic sedimentary units, outside of the hydrothermally altered core and ore deposit area. The calcite has been mapped as occurring as fracture and vug-filling cement within lahars and sandstones, and filling fractures and vugs in basalt and andesite. In addition, a downslope sandstone outcrop containing fracture-filling calcite has been observed and documented. The presence of calcite was further confirmed by x-ray diffraction analysis of rock samples from boreholes within sedimentary units downslope (downgradient) of the mine; and was additionally confirmed in unaltered rock in 25 boreholes surrounding the altered area. A literature review showed calcite is commonly found in such epithermal deposits throughout the region. The calcite precipitates as platy crystals filling voids or crusts filling fractures on the periphery of shallow alteration zones at temperatures generally less than 1800 C. The precipitation occurs through exsolution of CO2 in boiling fluids from the volcanic-hydrothermal system. Sampling and analysis of groundwater from monitoring wells shows evidence of buffering of ARD by calcite vertically and laterally downgradient of the mine. This included an increase in bicarbonate and pH coupled with decreasing metals and metalloid concentrations in wells that had calcite confirmed in the boreholes, compared to well boreholes without calcite. The mapped extent of ARD also shows the vertical and lateral extent is limited by the pervasive occurrence and buffering by calcite in bedrock underlying the shallower unconsolidated unit.

Keywords: acid drainage, calcite, pyrite, natural attenuation

Ball, JW & Nordstrom, DK 1985, Major and Trace Element Analyses of Acid Mine Waters in the Leviathan Mine Drainage Basin, California/Nevada – October 1981 to October 1982: U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 85-4169, pp. 41-42
Hammermeister, DP & Walmsley, SJ 1985, Hydrologic Data for Leviathan Mine and Vicinity, Alpine County, California, 1981-83: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report pp. 85-160, p. 160
Herbst, CM & Sciacca, JE 1982, Geology of the Leviathan Sulfur Mine and Vicinity: California State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Technical Services Report, p. 22
John, DA 2001, Miocene and Early Pliocene epithermal gold-silver deposits in the northern Great Basin, western United States: characteristics, distribution, and relationship to magmatism: Economic Geology, v. 96, pp. 1827-1853
John, DA, Guisso, J, Moore, WJ & Armin, RA 1981, Reconnaissance Geologic Map of the Topaz Lake 15 Minute Quadrangle, California and Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report pp. 81-273
McKnight, G & Vikre, PG 2022, Volcanic Stratigraphy and Varietal Au-Ag-Cu-Hg-S Deposits in the Monitor-Mogul Mining District, Alpine County, California: Geological Society of Nevada Geology and Ore Deposits of the Basin and Range 2022 Symposium, Program with Abstracts, p. 110
Pabst, A 1940, Cryptocrystalline pyrite from Alpine County, California: American Mineralogist, v. 25, pp. 425-431, June 1
Sciacca, JE 1984, Historical and Environmental Geologic Study of the Leviathan Creek Basin Landslide: M.S. Thesis, University of California, Davis, p. 207
Sciacca, JE 2008, Evidence of Potential Buffering of Acidic Groundwater by Naturally Occurring Calcite at the Leviathan Sulfur Mine, Alpine County, California: Proceedings of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Groundwater Association Conference on Remediation of Abandoned Mine Lands
Simmons, SF, & Christenson, BW 1994, Origins of calcite in a boiling geothermal system: American Journal of Science, v. 294, pp. 361-400, March
Simmons, SF, White, NC, & John, DA, 2005, Geological characteristics of epithermal precious and base metal deposits: Society of Economic Geologists, Inc., Economic Geology 100th Anniversary Volume, pp. 485–522
Slemmons, DB 1966, Cenozoic volcanism of the central Sierra Nevada, California: California Division of Mines and Geology Bulletin 190, pp. 199-208
S.S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc. (SSPA), 2022, Evaluation of Groundwater Conditions, Leviathan Mine, Alpine County, California, p. 75, April
WSP USA, 2023, In review, Remedial Investigation Report, Leviathan Mine Site, Alpine County, California, p. 177, April

© Copyright 2024, Australian Centre for Geomechanics (ACG), The University of Western Australia. All rights reserved.
View copyright/legal information
Please direct any queries or error reports to