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Does the recarbonization of artisanal gold mining soil increase mercury retention?

Grant number: 23/14727-1
Support Opportunities:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Post-doctor
Effective date (Start): June 01, 2024
Effective date (End): May 31, 2025
Field of knowledge:Physical Sciences and Mathematics - Geosciences
Principal Investigator:Luís Reynaldo Ferracciú Alleoni
Grantee:Matheus Bortolanza Soares
Supervisor: Tom Sizmur
Host Institution: Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz (ESALQ). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Piracicaba , SP, Brazil
Research place: University of Reading, England  
Associated to the scholarship:22/08032-8 - Nanobiochar modified with thiol in the control of mercury biogeochemistry in the soil in the Amazon region contaminated by mining activity, BP.PD


High levels of mercury (Hg) in soils and humans are found in the Amazon region and other biomes in Brazil due to gold mining. Most of the gold in these regions is extracted through artisanal mining, which can worsen contamination of soils and the environment by Hg. Artisanal mining involves the use of inadequate equipment and procedures that result in low efficiency in extracting gold from the ground. Artisanal mining, in addition to being inefficient in extracting gold and causing health problems due to lack of personal protective equipment, has no legal responsibility for recovering the area and is generally associated with illegal activities. The mining activity also promotes the loss of carbon (C) from the soil, affects Hg retention, and favors CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Faced with this problem, the C sequestration in the soil (recarbonization) can be essential not only for reducing climate change, but also reducing the accessibility to Hg, collaborating to achieve a balance between the resilience of the ecosystem and the C dynamics in the atmosphere. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the soil can strongly interact with Hg and affect its speciation, solubility, mobility, and toxicity, and the strong binding of Hg by DOM is attributed to the coordination of Hg at reduced sites of sulfur within the DOM. However, its magnification is limited to mineralogical conditions, quality of native organic matter, and climatic conditions, making the study necessary in different biomes. Due to the importance of the organic matter for Hg retention and organic carbon (OC) sequestration in the soil, we plan to evaluate in soils from different biomes i) the saturation capacity of organic carbon in mining soil; ii) Hg sequestration by Fe-OC-Hg ternary complexes; and iii) investigate the spatial distribution of C functional groups and their associations with soil mineral phases. To achieve these goals, we will combine DOM and Hg batch sorption studies along with scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM), near-edge X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy (NEXAFS), and high-resolution X-ray absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy. We hope that the combination of these techniques will make it possible to analyze the distribution of organic functional groups in the soil as well as the possible preferentially sorbed species. Thus, recarbonization can be a viable alternative to increase Hg retention and store OC.

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