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University of Kentucky Commonwealth Collaborative

Spoil Characterization

Observations of pre-SMCRA reforestation attempts and those attempts made after the enactment of SMCRA seem to indicate that excessive compaction is a severe impediment to successful reforestation. A controlled investigation was established in which tree growth could be monitored along with selected spoil characteristics for various reclamation methods representing different levels of compaction and various compaction alleviation techniques. This investigation was designed to establish a correlation between spoil characteristics and growth characteristics. The overall goal of this research was to establish a methodology whereby quantitative analyses of spoil characteristics could be used to evaluate the adequacy of site preparation and to predict the probable tree growth characteristics for that reclaimed land.

Specific objectives of the project are to:

  • Document survival and height for selected tree species as a function of reclamation method and compaction alleviation method; reclamation methods include the standard compacted method, rough-graded, and loose-dumped or uncompacted method; compaction alleviation methods include dozer-ripped and tractor-ripped.
  • Monitor spoil compaction characteristics over time for those reclamation methods and compaction alleviation methods using in-situ dry bulk density and penetration resistance as indicators.
  • Establish a quantitative relationship between tree growth characteristics and spoil characteristics that best fit the data.
  • Develop a prediction tool that will enable mine operators to estimate the site index for various tree species based on measurements of spoil characteristics.
The team members annually measure in-situ dry bulk density at depths of 2 in., 6in., and maximum depth of penetration using a nuclear density gauge for all plots in each cell. They also measure average penetration resistance and maximum penetration depth (refusal depth) using a recording cone penetrometer. Results to date clearly demonstrate that tree survival can be related to spoil characteristics (Figure 1) and tree height is definitely influenced by reclamation method (Figure 2). Development of the site index predictive model is still in progress.

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