Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Ducktown, TN Desert - Part I

[In 2007, as my son wanted to ride in a car with a working air conditioner (and he was tired from Scout camp), he declined the offer to roam around southeastern Tennessee and rode home with the mom of a fellow Scout. Sometimes he does like to get out and explore, but not this time.]

To the above-left is an aerial photo of a portion of the Ducktown, TN area, probably from the 1940s. The photo is part of the Ducktown Basin Copper Museum in southeastern TN.

Nary a tree in sight, from acid rainfall from the local smelters and deforestation to provide fuel for the furnaces.  Not to discount the environmental destruction pictured here, you can see what Geomorphologists/ Hydrologists refer to as a "dendritic stream pattern". Normally in the eastern United States, these patterns are obscured by trees.

The acid rainfall destruction was caused by the "roasting" of the iron and copper sulfide ores (pyrite, chalcopyrite, pyrrhotite,...). The museum curator mentioned that, in this decades-long process, five feet of topsoil was lost. The heating of the sulfide ores released sulfur dioxide (SO2) which, when mixed with rainfall produced sulfur acids, probably sulfurous acid (H2SO3).

The destruction of the local vegetation (over a 50 square mile area) wasn't done on purpose, it was one of those human screw-ups where we didn't understand the future environmental impacts of our actions.

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