Experiences from a MIWATCH researcher’s first fieldwork in Australia

Research officer Rosie Blannin on her first field trip since joining the Mine Waste Transformation through Characterisation (MIWATCH) team.

Rosie Blannin dressed in work PPE in the bush
Researcher Rosie Blannin on her first fieldwork trip with MIWATCH

Only 2 weeks after having touched down in Australia for the first time, I was already en route to Cairns for my first fieldwork trip as part of the MIWATCH team. Having not done any fieldwork for the past few years, I was excited to get back out there. The excitement was also combined with some nerves.  How would I fare with the tropical summer of Northern Queensland, having arrived only weeks previously from the near-zero British winter? And that’s not to mention the cyclones brewing off the coast and forecasts of heavy rains.

With Associate Professor Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Dr Laura Jackson and PhD candidate Olivia Mejías, we flew to Cairns and got ready to head out into the field the next day. Our work focused on the abandoned Baal Gammon mine and the nearby creek to collect sample for Olivia’s PhD project, in which she is tracing critical metals and their mobilisation throughout the mining-influenced environment. Baal Gammon was previously mined to recover copper, silver and tin, and is also known to contain indium. The site had undergone a remediation project to reduce the acid mine drainage contamination.

Laura Jackson, Rosie Blannin, Olivia Mejías and Anita Parbhakar-Fox in PPE posing at the back of a vehicle
Left to right: MIWATCHers Laura Jackson, Rosie Blannin, Olivia Mejías and Anita Parbhakar-Fox after a successful first day of sampling

The first day we scoped out the area and picked the best spots to take water and sediment samples from the Jamie Creek which runs along the base of the hill below the abandoned mine. We spent some happy, hot and humid, hours taking water samples along the creek and sediment samples where possible. I learnt how to analyse the water pH, redox potential and temperature with a probe and how to filter and prepare the water samples for analysis.

Rosie looking at rocks in the Jamie Creek
Rosie looking at rocks in the Jamie Creek

The next day we headed off to the Baal Gammon mine site. Much remediation has taken place, with the waste rock piles now covered in local flora. To my great excitement, I saw my first kangaroos here! We went to the old pit to collect more samples of acid mine drainage-impacted waters from an old mine adit, run off from the surrounding waste rock piles and the open pit itself. We also opportunistically sampled the waste rock piles around the pit. Very luckily, we completed all of our sampling before the torrential rain came at lunch time!

open pit at Baal Gammon and rock face with flowing water
The open pit at Baal Gammon (left) and some water flowing into the pit from the nearby waste dump where some interesting algae and bacterial growths have formed.

On our final day of the trip, we visited the nearby Jumna tailings deposit before the rain returned in the afternoon. We scoped out the site with the aim of returning soon to sample the tailings and stumbled across the eerie remains of the processing plant, which is being reclaimed by the jungle.

Jumna tailings deposit and an old processinf plant overgrown by nature and wildlife
The Jumna tailings deposit, where heavy rain and water flow over the surface have created some interesting structures in the tailings (left). The old processing plant at the Jumna site (right)

We prepared all the samples for shipping back to Brisbane for analysis, and with that, our fieldwork was complete. All that is left to say is congratulations Olivia for completing your PhD fieldwork and thank you to the team for letting me tag along and making it such an enjoyable experience!

I am looking forward to getting out in the field again so keep your eyes peeled for more MIWATCH blogs coming soon.

Last updated:
16 February 2023