Environmental mineralogy - Understanding element behavior in ecosystems

TitleEnvironmental mineralogy - Understanding element behavior in ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsBrown, Jr, GE, Calas, G
JournalComptes Rendus Geoscience
Date PublishedFeb-Mar
ISBN Number1631-0713
Accession NumberWOS:000289880800002

Environmental Mineralogy has developed over the past decade in response to the recognition that minerals are linked in many important ways with the global ecosystem. Minerals are the main repositories of the chemical elements in Earth's crust and thus are the main sources of elements needed for the development of civilization, contaminant and pollutant elements that impact global and local ecosystems, and elements that are essential plant nutrients. These elements are released from minerals through natural processes, such as chemical weathering, and anthropogenic activities, such as mining and energy production, agriculture and industrial activities, and careless waste disposal. Minerals also play key roles in the biogeochemical cycling of the elements, sequestering elements and releasing them as the primary minerals in crustal rocks undergo various structural and compositional transformations in response to physical, chemical, and biological processes that produce secondary minerals and soils. These processes have resulted in the release of toxic elements such as arsenic in groundwater aquifers, which is having a major impact on the health of millions of people in South and Southeast Asia. The interfaces between mineral surfaces and aqueous solutions are the locations of most chemical reactions that control the composition of the natural environment, including the composition of natural waters. The nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to the disposition of high-level nuclear waste, is also intimately related to minerals. A fundamental understanding of these processes requires molecular-scale information about minerals, their bulk structures and properties such as solubility, their surfaces, and their interactions with aqueous solutions, atmospheric and soil gases, natural organic matter, and biological organisms. Gaining this understanding is further complicated by the presence of natural, incidental, and manufactured nanoparticles in the environment, which are becoming increasingly important due to the rapidly developing field of nanotechnology. As a result of this complexity, Environmental Mineralogy requires the use of the most modern molecular-scale analytical and theoretical methods and overlaps substantially with closely related fields such as Environmental Sciences, low-temperature Geochemistry, and Geomicrobiology. This paper provides brief overviews of the above topics and discusses the complexity of minerals, natural vs. anthropogenic inputs of elements and pollutants into the biosphere, the role of minerals in the biogeochemical cycling of elements, natural nanoparticles, and the Environmental Mineralogy of three major potential pollutant elements (Hg, As and U). (C) 2011 Academie des sciences. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.