By Emily Lehmann
One of the world’s most invasive pests – the yellow crazy ant – is anything but a small problem in Australia’s top end.
Called ‘crazy’ for their erratic and frantic movements, these unwelcome critters were accidentally introduced into Australia and are a threat to native wildlife including other ant species.
Their capacity for destruction has been most devastatingly felt on Christmas Island where crazy ant supercolonies have formed and killed more than 20 million red crabs.
That’s why we have been leading efforts to control and eradicate the pest ant species across northern Australia.
As part of this mission, we’ve helped local company Yolngu Business Enterprises (YBE2) join the effort by developing a new service in crazy ant control.
Operating in north-east Arnhem Land, YBE2 is contracted to undertake rehabilitation work at Rio Tinto Alcan’s Gove Bauxite mine. The Gove area is ridden with yellow crazy ants.
Crazy ant infestations pose a significant challenge to mining and effective rehabilitation, as digging up the earth risks spreading them. The site needs to be continually monitored and treated to clear it of any colonies.
Through the Researchers in Business program, our ant ecologist Dr Ben Hoffmann worked with the YBE2 team on the ground to develop protocols to monitor the land, and identify and collect data to accurately map ant infestations using a GPS system.
About 200 hectares of infested area was mapped by YBE2 staff and underwent treatment. Since the project ended, a further 200 hectares has been mapped for treatment later this year.
The team gained valuable data on the impact the ants and treatments have on the local environment, which could be used to improve YBE2’s rehabilitation processes.
This research and development has given YBE2 the capacity to monitor and capture data from the land, secured them a contract to control crazy ants on the mine site and will potentially open up new business opportunities.
It’s also putting a halt to the spread of yellow crazy ants, helping to protect the Australian environment.
By Emily Lehmann
Mining is a big player in our economy so it’s important we use the most innovative and sustainable practices where possible. This is where we come in.
We’ve created a new environmentally-friendly treatment to turn mining wastewater into rainwater at a Queensland mine site – one that can dramatically reduce sludge by up to 90 per cent.
Sludge is an oozy, mud-like material and is a by-product of many conventional wastewater processes.
In large volumes sludge is problematic because it needs to be moved and stored in pits or landfill for long-term disposal. This is timely, expensive and can impact on the environment.
As the Australian mining industry is estimated to generate hundreds of millions of tonnes of wastewater each year, reducing sludge will have huge economic and environmental benefits.
When we applied the new technology, called Virtual Curtain, at the first commercial minesite recently, the treatment effectively removed a range of metal contaminants and the equivalent of around 20 Olympic swimming pools of rainwater-quality water was safely released into the environment.
The CSIRO-developed treatment utilises hydrotalcites, which are minerals sometimes found in stomach antacids, to simultaneously trap a variety of contaminants – including arsenic, cadmium, and iron – in one step.
The Virtual Curtain treatment is more cost-effective than traditional lime-based methods used by the mining industry and reduces the steps involved.
It doesn’t require complex infrastructure or chemistry to apply it and the small amount of material that’s leftover is often high in metal value which can be re-mined to partially offset treatment costs.
The licensed technology, which can be applied to a range of industrial applications, is available through Australian company Virtual Curtain Limited.
Hear from our expert, Dr Grant Douglas, in the video below.
For more info read the media release.
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By Emily Lehmann
As part of National Recycling Week, we thought we’d shine the light on recycling’s superhero: aluminium.
Most of us come into contact with this lightweight and durable metal every day – think soft drink cans, al-foil and computers.
It’s 100 per cent recyclable, and 75 per cent of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.
According to Australia’s largest aluminium recycler, Alcoa, it can be recycled from bin to the shelf in as little as 60 days.
Learn more about how this metal rocks in our infographic:
By Emily Lehmann
While money doesn’t grow on trees per se, we’ve found that precious gold does.
Our scientists have revealed that gum trees from the Western Australian goldfields draw up tiny particles of gold via their roots and it ends up in their leaves and branches.
The study published in Nature Communications today provides the first evidence of gold growing in trees.
“The eucalypt acts as a hydraulic pump – its roots extend tens of metres into the ground and draw up water containing the gold. As the gold is likely to be toxic to the plant, it’s moved to the leaves and branches where it can be released or shed to the ground,” CSIRO geochemist, Dr Mel Lintern says.
Prospectors be warned – the discovery is unlikely to start an old-time gold rush – the ‘nuggets’ are just one-fifth the diameter of a human hair and invisible to the eye.
Yet, it could provide a golden opportunity for mineral exploration, as the leaves or soil underneath the trees where they have fallen could indicate gold ore deposits buried up to tens of metres underground and under sediments that are up to 60 million years old.
“The leaves could be used in combination with other tools to get an idea of what’s happening below the surface without the need to drill. It could enhance gold exploration in a way that’s more targeted and environmentally friendly,” says Dr Lintern.
The research team used the powerful x-ray elemental imaging equipment at the Australian Synchrotron to locate and see the gold in the leaves.
Read more on our media page.
Media: Emily Lehmann, P: +61 419 271 822, Emily.Lehmann@csiro.au
By Emily Lehmann
We’ve created our very own time machine – a new modelling tool that can simulate millions of years of landscape evolution and possibly reveal hidden treasures.
Using the tool called LECODE, and iVEC’s supercomputer, our scientists travelled back in time to pinpoint the exact moment when deposits formed in the iron-rich Hamersley province in Western Australia.
The study has revealed potential locations for hidden and unexplored iron ore deposits.
“We simulated how erosion and water flow influenced the transport of sediment over thousands to millions of years, showing how the iron-rich soils were carried from one place to another to build sedimentary deposits,” says researcher Dr Guillaume Duclaux.
“Sedimentary (aka alluvial) deposits at the Earth’s surface can host significant mineral resources, however exploring them is challenging because they are built from layers of transported material that effectively hide the mineral deposits within,” he says.
“By exploring the material’s movement from the hill slopes to the valleys, we can predict the location of larger deposits hosted underground.”
There’s a high economic value attached to sedimentary iron deposits, which provide 40 per cent of Australia’s iron ore exports.
“Geologists and explorers could use the tool to make new mineral discoveries and it will reduce exploration costs and the environmental impacts associated with traditional drilling techniques,” Dr Duclaux says.
“This research has brought up new questions around the processes that trigger the formation of this type of deposit, which we’re investigating next,” he says.
Our tool is a 3D modelling code tailored to solve problems related to basin and landscape evolution. It could also be applied to other resources, such as gold and petroleum.
Dr Duclaux, Dr Tristan Salles and Dr Erick Ramanaidou presented this work at the AusIMM Iron Ore 2013 conference last week.
Learn more about CSIRO’s research in mineral exploration.