Latrobe Valley coal mines part of climate research

Federation University: coal mine research on climate change. photograph supplied

Alyssa Fritzlaff

FEDERATION University researchers are using Latrobe Valley’s rehabilitated brown
coal mines in an investigation into the impacts of climate change.

Professor Thomas Baumgartl is leading the project, which will focus on how changes in
rainfall patterns and increased drought will affect rehabilitated mines.

Dr Baumgartl is currently the director of Federation University’s Geotechnical and
Hydrogeological Engineering Research group.

The project will be carried out over an 18 month period, and Dr Baumgartl said was a
starting point to investigate if there are effects, and if there are effects, what is the magnitude of the impact which we can expect.

The research hopes to highlight the impact that climate change will have on designing
ground covers in mine rehabilitation, and will include glass house experiments and hydrological modelling.

The state government has funded the project, which is costing $450,000, as part
of the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies
(CRC-TiME).

CRC-TiME was created in 2020, and aims to support the economic and social transition for
Australian coal mining communities.

The program is funded by the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centre
Program, which was established in 1990 to aid Australian Industries in solving issues and
develop new technologies and services.

“This research will assess the risk of vegetation being impacted by the predicted change
in climate and offer options for how to design soil covers to best cope,” Dr Baumgartl said.

“The more you go into dry conditions… the smaller the vegetation density will become.

“When we are rehabilitating mines, or disturbed environments even, and we are creating a soil, the soil is not necessarily equilibrium with the conditions. Soil development takes ten
thousands of years.

“While the research will focus on the Gippsland region, it’s hoped the findings will be a valuable tool for Australia’s mining sector more broadly.”

As part of Latrobe Valley’s mine rehabilitation, part of the slopes will be covered in earthen material and soil.

This prevents downslope movement and reduce the risk of erosion.

Earth Resources Policy and Programs executive director Jane Burton said the research is needed.

“The work of Federation University will support the transformation of Latrobe Valley’s
brown coal mines to safe, stable and sustainable environments,” she said.

In June 2020, the state government released the Latrobe Valley Regional Rehabilitation
Strategy.