Waste rock piles are an outcome of open pit and underground mining operations. Unprocessed low‐grade rock is disposed of in piles from several meters high to 100 m+ high. Waste rock piles may still contain sufficient concentrations of metals to be a potential source of pollution. The evaluation of the potential risk involves properly characterizing flow through these piles under unsaturated conditions. The main flow characteristic of the piles is the presence of a large range of grain and pore sizes. Based on data from an instrumented rock pile located in Saskatchewan Canada, unsaturated flow through the pile is modeled as a linear system after separating a fast and a slow component. Water reaching the base of the pile is monitored by 16 contiguous zero‐tension lysimeters. The fast component, flowing through macropores, is assumed to be released instantaneously, while the slow component is simulated using a linear‐reservoir model that assumes the presence of an interconnected porous matrix. An empirical transfer function (TF) is computed as the ratio of the spectra of signals between the output (basal outflow) and the input (rainfall time series). Determination of a parametric transfer function model provides information on the characteristic time of water storage in the matrix and on the fraction of the water within each subsection of the experimental pile that is channeled through the macropores. An analysis of the output signal at different support scales is performed, indicating the nonlinearity of the macropore fraction scaling processes.

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Published on 01/01/2011

DOI: 10.1029/2010WR010163
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA license

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