Under acidic, weathering conditions, silver (Ag) is considered to be highly mobile and can be dispersed within near-surface environments. In this study, a range of regolith materials were sampled from three abandoned open pit mines located in the Iberian Pyrite Belt, Spain. Samples were analyzed for Ag mineralogy, content, and distribution using micro-analytical techniques and high-resolution electron microscopy. While Ag concentrations were variable within these materials, elevated Ag concentrations occurred in gossans. The detection of Ag within younger regolith materials, i.e., terrace iron formations and mine soils, indicated that Ag cycling was a continuous process. Microbial microfossils were observed within crevices of gossan and their presence highlights the preservation of mineralized cells and the potential for biogeochemical processes contributing to metal mobility in the rock record. An acidophilic, iron-oxidizing microbial consortium was enriched from terrace iron formations. When the microbial consortium was exposed to dissolved Ag, more than 90% of Ag precipitated out of solution as argentojarosite. In terms of biogeochemical Ag cycling, this demonstrates that Ag re-precipitation processes may occur rapidly in comparison to Ag dissolution processes. The kinetics of Ag mobility was estimated for each type of regolith material. Gossans represented 0.6–146.7 years of biogeochemical Ag cycling while terrace iron formation and mine soils represented 1.9–42.7 years and 0.7–1.6 years of Ag biogeochemical cycling, respectively. Biogeochemical processes were interpreted from the chemical and structural characterization of regolith material and demonstrated that Ag can be highly dispersed throughout an acidic, weathering environment.
- Iron-oxidizing bacteria/archaea
- Silver biogeochemical cycling
- Terrace iron formations
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology