QRRC Research Relating to the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Pond Breach

On 4th August 2014, the dam containing the tailings pond at Imperial Metals Corporation's Mount Polley Mine failed catastrophically. This resulted in the release of approximately 8 million m³ of sediment and 17 million m³ of water, which flowed down Hazeltine Creek and into both Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

Mt Polley Mine Area 29 July 2014
Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) view of the Mt Polley mine area, 29th July 2014

Mt Polley Mine Area 5 August 2014
OLI view of the same area, 5th August 2014

UNBC faculty, staff and students, together with collaborators from universities and research institutes across Canada and overseas, federal and provincial government agencies and First Nations, are actively involved in research aimed at improving understanding of the immediate and longer-term environmental and ecological implications of this event. This work has continued throughout the past two years, and builds on the 'baseline' data accumulated previously.

The main goals of our research are to compile a detailed picture of how the physical and chemical characteristics of the tailings influx are interacting with the lake's water, natural sediments, biology and bathymetry, within the context of its internal circulations and the meteorological influences which drive them.

Based primarily from the QRRC, we continue to collect and analyze water, sediment, and biological samples from the lake and surrounding watershed, and to monitor the movement of water and sediment plumes in Quesnel Lake itself. Other researchers from the University of BC, University of Lethbridge and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans are also involved in this major project, which received a grant of $800,000 by Environment and Climate-Change Canada's Environmental Damages Fund (news release).

Information relating to study of the breach's potential impacts is also available from the BC Ministry of Environment, and Imperial Metals Corporation.

This page provides a summary of the QRRC's related activities to date, and a list of related media coverage. More information will be added as it becomes available.


UNBC, UBC and BIO Take Quesnel Lakebed Cores

Quesnel Lake coring, July 2016Over a ten-day period in mid-July 2016, a team of eight researchers from UNBC, UBC, the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) and the community of Likely took a series of cores from locations on the bed of Quesnel Lake. The main purpose of this sampling was to improve understanding of the current distribution of the sediment which entered the lake as a result of the breach. Describing the physical, chemical and microbiological composition of the cores will help to build a more complete picture of the tailings' impacts in different parts of the lake.

QRRC Mt Polley Research Presented at European Geosciences Union Conference

Drs Phil Owens and Ellen Petticrew presented a poster, co-authored by Sam Albers, at the 2016 General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union, held in Vienna, Austria from the 17th to the 22nd of April 2016. The poster provided details of the dam breach, the sampling and research response by UNBC and the QRRC, and some initial results. The abstract is available in PDF form, here.


UNBC Study Documents Impacts of Tailings Impoundment Spill on Quesnel Lake

A paper describing initial research into the breach was published in Geophysical Research Letters, an academic journal of the American Geophysical Union. The paper, titled The impact of a catastrophic mine tailings impoundment spill into one of North America’s largest fjord lakes: Quesnel Lake, British Columbia, Canada was written by twelve scientists from the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Vynx Design Incorporated. The paper is available in full as a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format (1.5 Mb). Additional information was published in a UNBC Press Release


UNBC and University of Lethbridge researchers present conference poster in Barcelona

Researchers from the UNBC and the University of Lethbridge collaborated to present a poster at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry of May 2015, held in Barcelona, Spain. The focus of the meeting was Environmental protection in a multi-stressed world: challenges for science, industry and regulators.



The poster is available for download in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format (1.4 Mb).


UNBC faculty present Mount Polley research at the 2015 AGU and CGU Joint Assembly in Montreal

QRRC's two Forest Renewal BC endowed chairs, professors Ellen Petticrew and Phil Owens, presented details of their research relating to the breach of the Mount Polley Mine at the joint assembly of the American and Canadian geophysical unions held in Montreal, Quebec from 3-7 May 2015.

Petticrew et al.: Regulation of the Distribution of Anthropogenic Contaminants by Physical Limnological Processes in a Relatively Pristine Watershed: the Breach of the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Impoundment, British Columbia, Canada

Owens et al.: From the (relatively) pristine to the polluted: the breach of the Mount Polley Mine tailings impoundment, Quesnel Watershed, British Columbia


QRRC manager, Sam Albers, presents Mount Polley tailing pond breach research at the First Nations Fisheries Council Science Series

Sam Albers, Ellen Petticrew & Phil Owens: From the (relatively) pristine to the polluted: The Breach of the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Impoundment, Quesnel Watershed, British Columbia.


YouTube video of QRRC research into the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach

A short (3½ minute) video has been made describing research at the QRRC related to the Mount Polley Mine tailings ponds breach.


Media Coverage of QRRC and Mt Polley Research