King River, Tasmania

January 21, 2008


Provided by: Phillip Lachman
Summary Authors: Phillip Lachman, Stu Witmer

The King River is located in the wilderness of the west coast of Tasmania, Australia. Though the countryside is incredibly beautiful, rugged and still relatively inaccessible, King River itself is brown due to the mining operations carried out in the area. In late 1880, close to the King River, the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company established what was to become one of the foremost copper mines in the world. By the time dumping of the mine's waste ended in 1994, the river had accumulated 95 million tons of mining tailings, 10 million tons of topsoil and 1.4 million tons of smelter slag. The river was all but dead. Of the total load of sediments discharged into the river system, an estimated 3.4 million tons are in sediment banks and a maximum of 10 million tons are in the river bed of the last 8 km of the King River. The riverbed here has been raised by as much as 9 m (29 ft).

High copper concentrations have also been measured in the King River. This waste material has accumulated along the banks of the King River and has formed a large unstable delta, where the river enters the harbor. Exposed tailings, both on the delta and on the riverbanks, are highly acidic as a result of pyrite oxidation, and this contributes to the dissolution of both iron and copper from these sediments. Fortunately, a remediation campaign has begun in the hope that the King River may again run free and clear. This photograph was taken from the Abt railway. An Abt railway, named after its Swiss inventor Roman Abt, uses a rack and pinion system between conventional rails to gain traction on steep inclines.