Unearthing a hidden treasure: 60 years of karst research in the Far West Rand, South Africa
Karstified dolomitic formations situated in the Far West Rand goldfield of the Witwatersrand Basin constitute a significant groundwater resource in semi-arid South Africa and would be of strategic importance for alleviating the increasing water stress in nearby metropolitan areas. The deep-level gold mines operating below the dolomites have suffered from large volumes of dolomitic groundwater flowing into the mine voids, rendering mining both expensive and hazardous. In order to secure safe and economical mining, the overlying dolomites were dewatered. Here we review research over 60 years, conducted in three of the four major dolomitic compartments affected by dewatering. After more than six decades of research, these aquifers are arguably the most investigated karst systems in South Africa, and possibly worldwide. The data generated are, in many respects, unique, as many measurements can never be repeated, covering stochastic events such as a major water inrush into mine workings and some of the most catastrophic sinkhole developments ever recorded. Given the potential value for improving the understanding of general and local karst hydrogeology, our main goal for this paper is to alert the scientific community to the existence of this resource of mostly unpublished data and research. A no less important aim is to support a systematic collation of these studies which are in danger of being irretrievably lost as mines increasingly close down. Ecological and economic impacts of the flooding of mines in and around Johannesburg emphasise the lack of reliable historical mine data to optimally address the matter. We provide the first comprehensive, yet not exhaustive, overview on the existing studies, briefly discussing scientific content as well as obstacles for utilising the scattered, and often non-peer reviewed, information sources.
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