Publication: Mining rehabilitation – Using geomorphology to engineer ecologically sustainable landscapes for highly disturbed lands
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Mining is essential to the human economy and has been conducted for millennia. In the past ~60 years, the scale of disturbance created by mining has grown larger in response to economic demands and technology capacity. However the scale of disturbance from mining is dwarfed by that of urban expansion and agriculture. Nevertheless, it is well recognised that mine sites have radically disturbed abiotic and biotic system components that, post-mining need to restore new land uses and ecosystem goods and services. In many cases, such aims demand a geomorphic integration with the surrounding undisturbed landscape. Erosional stability based on geomorphic principles is the first and most important part of the process. Without erosional stability, vegetation will be difficult to establish and maintain and soil and nutrients will be lost from the site. In this review we outline this process and methods by which a geomorphic and integrative landscape can be established. We also examine the issue of establishing a self-sustaining landscape that is similar to that of the prior undisturbed landscape. Here we argue that this is not possible in almost all situations, however the development of a new and ecologically successful, albeit different landscape is. The community needs to accept that mining, like agriculture, is essential to the modern economy and that a past landscape cannot be replaced with the same, but a new, functional and productive one can be developed. However, the ability to do this and ensure long-term ecological sustainability is questionable for many sites and considerable effort needs to be made to develop the technology to ensure that this will occur. We outline a way forward, based on geomorphic design and modelling.