Vegetation and Soil Development in Compost-Amended Iron Oxide Precipitates at a 50-Year-Old Acid Mine Drainage Barrens


Address correspondence to M. A. Bruns, email


Acid mine drainage (AMD) barrens result from destruction of vegetation within AMD flow paths. When exposed to air, soluble iron in AMD undergoes oxidation and hydrolysis to form ferric iron (oxyhydr)oxides which accumulate on soil surfaces. A restoration experiment was conducted at a 50-year-old AMD barrens created by discharge from an abandoned underground coal mine. The objective was to determine whether vegetation could be established by altering rather than removing surface layers of acidic precipitates at a site representative of other mining-degraded areas. Three zones in the barrens were identified based on moisture content, pH (2.7–3.3), and thickness of precipitates (0–35 cm). Our hypothesis was that application of the same reclamation method to all zones would fail to sustain >70% vegetative cover in each zone after four growing seasons. The method consisted of applying 11 t/ha lime and 27 or 54 t/ha compost before rototilling (top 15 cm) and mulching with oat straw containing viable seeds for a nurse crop. Lime-only plots were included for comparison, and all amended plots were sown with a mine reclamation seed mix. Oats, sown species, and indigenous species dominated cover in the first, second, and fourth growing seasons, respectively. In the fourth year following reclamation, compost-amended plots had >70% cover and improved soil properties in all three zones, providing evidence to reject our hypothesis. Vegetative restoration of AMD barrens did not require removal of highly acidic precipitates, since they could be transformed at low-cost into a medium that supports indigenous plants.