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Environmental Sciences

Our research in Environmental Geoscience focuses on environmental aspects within the mining cycle, including mineralogical and biogeochemical processes in mine tailings and contaminated soils, development of improved reclamation strategies, and new biogeochemical extraction technologies.

Canada’s economy depends strongly on the extraction and processing of natural resources including mineral deposits. The environmental impacts of the mining mineral deposits are diverse, and include construction of tailings impoundments, release of aerosolic particulate matter on denuded landscapes from process facilities such as mills and smelters, with contamination of both surface- and groundwater by acid and neutral mine drainage from material handling facilities. The environment in the Sudbury region at the heart of the Canadian minerals industry has been impacted by over a century of industrial activities. Thus research in Environmental Earth Sciences at the Harquail School focuses on environmental aspects within the mining cycle and can be divided into three major themes: 

   I. Mineralogical and biogeochemical processes in contaminated soils and mine tailings from landscape to nanoscales 

   II. Development of improved reclamation strategies for mining industry impacted soils, tailings, and mine rock storage facitlies

   III. Development of new biomining technologies to extract the economic value metals in mine rock and mine tailings


Mineralogical and biogeochemical processes in impacted soils and mine tailings at the nanoscale

All mineralogical and biogeochemical processes in the environment occur at the nano-scale (1-100 nm). Processes at this scale commonly control the fate of metal- and metalloid-bearing contaminants in soils, tailings, sediments and water. Environmentally relevant processes at the nano- and micro- scale include adsorption of contaminants on mineral surfaces, organic matter and nanoparticles, mineral surface–bacteria interactions, transport of contaminant-bearing nanoparticles within soils, sediments and tailings in percolating waters, and the formation, agglomeration, attachment and release of contaminant-bearing nanoparticles. 


Developing reclamation strategies for mining lands 

The millions of tonnes of tailings and waste rock on active and abandoned base metal and gold mine sites are an environmental concern for the mining industry worldwide. Aspects of Harquail School research focuses on leading-edge Technosol development by creating relatively low nutrient organic residual-mineral mixture covers for waste rock piles and tailings impoundments. These Technosol covers allow improved water management, carbon sequestration capacity and acid mine drainage suppression capabilities while supporting viable indigenous or agricultural plant growth in ecological communities to provide lands for aesthetic, agricultural or forestry use. Development of new biomining technologies to extract metals from mine tailings.



Faculty & Research Scientists

  • Faculty


    • Nadia Mykytczuk
      Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk
      Assistant Professor and Industrial Research Chair in Biomining, Bioremediation and Science Communication; Cross-appointed with School of the Environment

      Dr. Mykytczuk runs an interdisciplinary research program that uses tools in molecular biology, microbiology and biogeochemistry. Specifically, her work focuses on developing, optimizing and prototyping biomining and bioremediation technology.

    • Michael Schindler
      Michael Schindler
      Associate Professor, Environmental Mineralogy

      The fate of heavy elements in the environment is controlled by their transport properties, the dissolution and growth of minerals containing these elements, their uptake by minerals and their adsorption on mineral surfaces. Processes such as dissolution, growth, adsorption and uptake occur at or near the mineral-water interface.

    • Graeme A. Spiers
      Graeme A. Spiers
      Associate Professor and Research Chair in Environmental Monitoring; Cross-appointed with School of the Environment & Department of Biology

      My research has resulted in over 80 technical and scientific publications, as well as numerous presentations in analytical chemistry, aquatic chemistry, environmental geology, ecology, plant biology and soil science.

  • PhD Candidates

    PhD Candidates

    • John Hechler
      John Hechler
      PhD Candidate

      FROM: Sudbury, Ontario. GRADUATED FROM: Laurentian University (BSc and MSc). SPECIALITIES: Environmental Geology, Analytical Chemistry. CURRENT RESEARCH: Geochemistry of Sudbury Mine Tailings. SUPERVISOR: Dr. Graeme Spiers. COMMITTEE: Dr. Michael Schindler, Dr. François Caron, Dr. Marcus Burnham

  • MSc Students

    MSc Students

    • Emilia Principe
      Emilia Principe
      MSc candidate Geology

      FROM: Sudbury, ON. GRADUATED FROM: Laurentian University. CURRENT RESEARCH: Microenvironments of Waste Rock and Tailings Impoundements: A Biogeochemical and Mineralogical Analyses. SUPERVISORS: Dr. Michael Schindler, Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk

    • Christine Legrand
      Christine Legrand
      MSc candidate Environmental Geology

      FROM: Sudbury, ON. GRADUATED FROM: Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario. CURRENT RESEARCH: Weathering of Rocks from the Ring of Fire: Understanding the release and mobilization of Cr and V. SUPERVISOR: Dr. Graeme Spiers

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