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Lousal: A Successful history of mine remediation in Portugal

The Lousal Science Centre – Mine of Science is part of a Portuguese network of 20 science centers spread throughout Portugal, which has the objective of promoting knowledge among people of all ages and fostering science and technology in creative and attractive ways for scholar and non-scholar visitors.

Intro

During my first year of PhD at University of Lisbon, working on the characterization of waste rock and tailings from Neves Corvo mine, I have learned a lot about the big relevance of mining in Portugal, especially in the past when this activity was a result of the post-industrial revolution period. Back then, mining assumed high relevance at economic terms in the country.

But, as a result of that situation, there are now a significant number of abandoned mines spread all over the country, most of them from old exploitation of base and precious metals, as well as tungsten, tin, uranium, lithium and a little bit of coal.

A total of 175 mining areas were identified in the inventory of degraded mining areas in line with the Decree Law No 198-A/2001, from which 61 belong to radioactive minerals and 114 to metallic sulfides (the more relevant ones are São Domingos, Aljustrel, Lousal, Caveira, Argozelo, Covas, Montesinho and Terramonte).

Two of my supervisors, Jorge Relvas and Alvaro Pinto, work in an interesting and successful rehabilitation project called “RELOUSAL”, which includes the “Centro Ciencia Viva do Lousal” (a pole of the “Ciência Viva” Network of Science Centers in Portugal ), located in Lousal (Portugal) and that’s exactly the place I would like to talk to you about today.

Lousal is recognized as a mining village by the history of the territory, the well-preserved mining surface infrastructures, the mining museum of Lousal, the Science Center, the underground gallery and, most importantly, by the memories of retired miners that still live in the village.

So, why was Lousal an interesting site for mining?

The Lousal mine was an important massive sulphide deposit of the well-known Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB), which hosts extraordinary VMS deposits in Portugal and Spain. The deposit was mainly exploited for pyrite (iron sulphide) with about 50Mt of ore with 1.4% Zn, 0.8% lead and 0.7% copper (Strauss, 1970). Some authors (Reiser et al, 2010 and Oliveira et al, 2011) mentioned that some ores contain Germanium and Indium, which, translated to nowadays demand of materials, represent a possible important source of critical raw materials. Unfortunately, due to the low contents of zinc and copper in the mined ores, the deposit became not viable economically as the extraction of sulphur from pyrite is no longer sustainable.

Fig 1. General Geology of the IPB and location of the Lousal deposit and other massive sulphide deposits (Taken from Relvas et al, 2012)

The mine at Lousal was discovered in 1882 by a local farmer who was granted a temporary lease between 1885 and 1899; unfortunately, he lost it due to his inability to submit an exploitation plan to the authorities. The mine was active between 1900 and 1988 with some significant changes in management and new methods of mechanized mining production led by Frederic Velge, specially during the fifties. These changes not only were important for the company but for the village where an improvement in living conditions such as water supply and electricity equipped houses for the miners, hospital, church, bakery, recreation hall and others, started to be seen in Lousal.

After the closure of the mine, the Frederic Velge foundation (which joined the company owing the mine – SAPEC- and the local municipality – Grândola) launched and supported several projects in partnership with different organizations for the remediation and rehabilitation of this area (under the scope of the RELOUSAL program), such as the Mining Museum, the Lousal Science Centre – Mine of Science, and the underground Waldemar mining gallery.

Fig 2. The Waldemar Underground Gallery

For the past 24 years, these projects have obtained exceptional results, from which I would like to highlight the professional training for the ex-miners and families, public ware equipment, a restaurant in the main storehouse of the mine, soil decontamination and the visitor welcoming center. Many other results have been achieved along this period of time thanks to the determination of local people, sponsors, mine owners and scientists to keep alive their memories and legacy of the mining activity and to share with the world their now heritage site.

The Mining Museum was installed in the old building where the electrical plant of the mine was installed keeping all their original equipment, now fully rehabilitated. The installation accommodates huge electrical alternators and air-compressors that shows in sequence the evolution of new technologies and mining exploitation methods. The museum has also a wing dedicated to the equipment and material used in the hospital many years ago for a better quality of life of the miners and their families.

Fig 3. The mining museum at Lousal

The Lousal Science Centre – Mine of Science is part of a Portuguese network of 20 science centers spread throughout Portugal, which has the objective of promoting knowledge among people of all ages and fostering science and technology in creative and attractive ways for scholar and non-scholar visitors.

The Lousal Science Centre was inaugurated in 2010 and, since then, it has used the whole environment of the mining village, in combination with technological resources as an open interactive “classroom” where adults, children, tourists and locals can learn through “hands-on” experiments created to spread the word about mining and geology.

Lousal not only represents an excellent rehabilitation example for abandoned mines, but also created an opportunity for promoting geo-tourism and knowledge through an interactive and very dynamic learning strategy: cultural appropriation, science popularization and fun walk close together in Lousal.

I invite you all to visit this amazing place and see by yourselves how mining heritage, environment, science and society do merge in this successful example of rehabilitation of an old mining village.

Fig 4. Idyllic Lousal: A visit is a must!