Statistical Analysis of the Environmental Geochemistry of an Unmined Uranium Ore Deposit

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Virginia Tech

An evaluation of the geochemistry of the environment prior to large-scale changes enables scientists and other stakeholders to assess both baseline conditions and the potential impact of those changes to the environment. One area in which documentation of pre-development geochemistry is particularly important is in the exploitation of ore deposits. Ore deposits consist of concentrations of elements or minerals that are enriched enough to be of potential economic value. Their unusual geochemistry often leaves a signature on the environment that can both aid in location an economic resource and present environmental management challenges during its lifecycle. Coles Hill, Virginia, represents one such site. The Coles Hill property is the location of uranium-enriched rock, commonly referred to as the Coles Hill uranium deposit.

This dissertation outlines study design, sampling, and statistical analysis methods that can be used in the geochemical characterization of a potential resource extraction site. It presents three studies on geoenvironmental media at Coles Hill. The first study discusses sampling strategies and statistical analysis to address variability in geology, hydrology and climate for baseline assessment and presents an example of such an assessment at Coles Hill. Results suggest a localized environmental impact of the deposit but that differences in bedrock geology within the area surrounding the deposit could also be responsible for some of the variation. This study also emphasizes the importance of consideration of data below analytical detection limits and describes methods for doing so. The second study compares the geochemistry of soil samples collected at Coles Hill with reference data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey using multivariate statistical techniques. Differences are used to suggest potential pathfinder elements such as light rare earth elements to aid in exploration for similar deposits. The third study uses multivariate statistical analysis to examine differences among rocks, soils, and stream sediments to infer important geochemical processes involved in weathering of the deposit. Overall, the results of these studies can aid in the development of future environmental site studies at Coles Hill and elsewhere.

Coles Hill, uranium, Water, soils, statistics, geochemistry, data analysis