Wildlife Photographer of the Year: A Beautifully Poisoned Landscape

The environmental disaster of mismanaged copper mining

Gheorghe, a pharmacist and photographer from Aiud, a small town in Transylvania, Romania, is one of the many people fascinated by Geamăna.

“When I first visited Geamăna in 2014, I had no idea that I was in the presence of an ecological disaster,” he says.

Since then, Gheorghe has researched the lake and visited it several times. He saw his colors change from brownish red to pink to orange and more.

“I visited Geamăna at different times of the day,” says Gheorghe. “Sometimes at four in the morning during the summer, when the sun had just come up, so there was enough light but no distracting reflections. Most people tend to go there during the day, they can’t so not get the same colors as me.

Mining sites are found by looking for metal “fingerprints” – the breakdown of toxic metals on the Earth’s surface that occurs naturally and in small amounts.

These minerals are naturally mixed with other metals in the ground. Large machines are used to extract the rocks containing these metals, and the desired mineral is then filtered out through various methods such as crushing and smelting.

What’s left is a mixture of crushed metals and unwanted rocks that need to be stored somewhere. In the case of Rosia Poieni, Geamăna served this purpose.

These metals were exposed to the atmosphere and therefore oxidized and decomposed more and much more quickly, sometimes giving remarkable colors.

Robin Armstrong, mineral deposits geologist at the Museum, said: “The colors you see in the lake are the result of the breakdown of minerals – mainly pyro which may contain trace amounts of other metals, such as arsenic and cadmium.

“These elements can pose a serious environmental problem, especially when exposed to the atmosphere and water. For example, the degradation of pyrite generates acidic waters that are potentially destructive to the local environment.

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