Heavy metal and acid rock are taking over in the Rocky Mountains as the climate warms, but it isn't another music festival at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado.
Geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) suggested in a recent study that warmer temperatures may be one cause of increased erosion of zinc and other heavy metals into the waterways of the Rockies. Part of that erosional process is called acid rock drainage, in which weathering of pyrite rocks forms sulfuric acid and frees heavy metals into the watershed.
"Acid rock drainage is a significant water quality problem facing much of the Western United States," lead researcher Andrew Todd of the USGS said in a press release. "It is now clear that we need to better understand the relationship between climate and ARD as we consider the management of these watersheds moving forward."
Warmer temperatures are dropping water tables in the Rockies, melting permafrost and increasing the rate of mineral weathering. These processes all contribute to increasing heavy metal concentrations. Levels of dissolved zinc found in Rocky Mountain streams have increased fourfold over the past 30 years.