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Climate change increases rare earth elements in Colorado’s Snake River


The confluence of the upper Snake River (left), where the naturally-occurring acid rock drainage from the local geology creates the characteristic rusty red coloring, and pristine inflows from Deer Creek. Researchers here are studying how climate change is releasing more rare earth metals, often found in conjunction with acid rock drainage, into rivers. The Snake River begins high in the mountains of Colorado, with headwaters near Loveland Pass. It weaves its way downstream through rocky fields to a wetland valley before eventually joining the Blue River, which cuts through Breckenridge and eventually dumps into the Dillon Reservoir. The river is important to the region: It supplies drinking water for Denver and is a popular fly-fishing spot.

But the Snake could be heading for troubled waters: According to a recent study, climate change-driven changes in its hydrology are releasing more rare earth elements. It’s a finding that could have broader implications for water quality across the West.

The study , published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that higher levels of rare earth elements — a group of chemically similar metals — are ending up in Colorado’s water supply due to lower stream flows caused by drought and […]

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