The effects of mine dust are being studied in Svappavaara

November 3, 2022

What impact does mine dust have on nearby nature? That is currently being investigated in Svappavaara, among other places, by researchers from SLU together with LKAB's environmental engineers.

Tre personer samtalar i skogsmiljö.
Charlotta Rynbäck Andersson and Stina Lindh from environmental department in Svappavara and Mari Jönsson from SLU have together established around 20 sample areas in and around the industrial area in Svappavaara.

In this first phase, mainly trees, berries, vascular plants, mosses and lichens are being looked at – incredibly important components of our ecosystem, for both animals and humans.

”Up until now, investigations of dust fallout around our mines have focused mainly on society and humans. In this project, we focus on the forest and everything it gives us in the form of, for example, reindeer grazing, berries and recreational values”, says Stina Lindh, environmental engineer in Svappavaara.

The project is called MINEDUST and is a collaboration between LKAB, Boliden and Sweden’s Agricultural University, SLU, part-financed by Vinnova, and is carried out in Svappavaara and around Boliden’s Aitik mine in Gällivare. The aim is to learn more about the effects of dust from the mining industry on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

”There is a lot of mining in this type of boreal forest environment in the world, for example in Canada, but despite that we know very little about the ecology, and the impact of mining dust on it, around ongoing mining. Therefore, this is also very exciting for us as researchers, and will be an important project not only for LKAB and Boliden and the surrounding area, but also nationally and internationally, says Mari Jönsson who is associate professor at SLU and part-responsible for the project.

”For LKAB, this is an important project for building up knowledge. We want to know more about how we affect the nature around us”, says Stina Lindh.

During the summer, around 20 test areas were established at each mine, in part based on input from the Sami villages in the area with regard to reindeer herding. Some of the surfaces are inside the industrial area and some outside, in different directions and at varying distances from the mine. In these areas, the researchers have looked for different patterns in the biology: the amount of different species, the amount of berries, how big the plants are and whether there is any variation in colour and vitality, and so on. In some places, moss and lichens have also been planted, to find out how they are doing and growing.

”Lichens and mosses are very good indicators of climate and air quality. They take in nutrients directly from the air and precipitation, unlike most plants that take up nutrients from the substrate via roots. Therefore, they respond very quickly, and clearly, to differences in air quality and pollution”, explains Mari Jönsson.

During the autumn and winter, the collected data will be analysed, before the next field season, next summer, focus switches to the insects and how they are affected. As pollinators, they fulfill a very important function, not least for the availability of berries – lots of mosquitoes last summer is a partial explanation for a good cloudberry season.

These field studies are also supplemented with greenhouse experiments and investigations in a lab environment.

”The hope is that this project will give us a knowledge base and basic data for both further research in the area and for evaluating and monitoring the effects of mine dust on biological diversity and our ecosystems”, concludes Mari Jönsson.

Två personer studerar provyta i skog.
The sample areas have been laid out in forests like this one: middle-aged pine forest. Eight smaller areas within the sample area aret hen selected at random, to be looked at more closely: for example, how many berries there are and degree of coverage and growth of vegetation.