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Good Example of Bad Results from Exposed Sulfur Containing Rock

Vermilion Community College (VCC) in Ely, MN offers an excellent example of the bad results from water runoff of exposed rocks containing sulfur.  A very thin band of exposed sulfur containing rock in the Greenstone outcropping in the VCC courtyard has produced a dead zone “downstream.”  As you approach the massive Greenstone outcropping from the front of the courtyard you see what we would expect in Northern Minnesota, bright green vegetation, flowers, a healthy Birch Tree and a huge rock outcropping.  Hidden from view, on the backside of this larger outcropping, is a smaller outcropping that contains a small thin band of exposed crumbly sulfurous rock that has, with rain running off and “downstream” from this rock, a dead zone where nothing lives, except the rocks.   Although this is not the same kind of rock that will be mined for copper, sulfur in what ever form when exposed to air and water will produce acid mine drainage and release of arsenic and mercury and other heavy metals into the watershed and that DOES include the type of rock that contains sulfur in the form of sulfides  that may be mined for copper in our region.

VCC Ely Greenstone Outcropping

What we want to see






















VCC Ely Greenstone Outcropping with Sulfurous Rock Exposed

First View of the Problem






















You will notice, below, that a small pine tree is able to grow on slightly higher ground where the rain runoff doesn’t reach.

VCC Ely Greenstone Outcropping with Sulfurous Rock Exposed-The Sulfurous Vein

The Sulfurous Culprit






















VCC Ely Greenstone Outcropping with Sulfurous Rock Exposed

View of the Sulfurous rock runoff zone






















VCC Ely Greenstone Outcropping with Sulfurous Rock Exposed

Closeup of the Dead Zone caused by runoff from the Sulfurous Rock

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