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Isotopic compositions of sulphate (δ18O and δ34S) have been analysed in groundwaters from a karst aquifer in Xingwen, China to assess their use as indigenous tracers of different pollutant sulphate sources. Sulphate δ18O is highly effective at distinguishing sulphate from atmospheric ‘acid rain’ sources (higher δ18O values) from sulphate produced by aqueous pyrite oxidation (natural or acid mine drainage), which always has lower δ18O. The range of sulphate δ34S produced by aqueous oxidation of different pyrite sources is sufficiently wide to enable different natural and pollutant sulphate sources to be distinguished. Despite the fact that streams containing processing fines and pyrite mine drainage both derive sulphate from oxidation of ore materials, there is still a clear distinction in their sulphate δ34S. A combination of sulphur and oxygen isotopic measurements is thus highly effective at discriminating between all the sulphate sources to the karst aquifer and this indigenous tracer provides a powerful tool for assessing the impact of acid mine drainage on karst groundwater.

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