Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Termite mounds and presence of metals: The search for uranium and other elements may soon concentrate around anthills. Researchers from the department of geology, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, have found that anthills or termite mounds are natural indicators of the presence of uranium, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, chromium, and barium among other minerals

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The search for uranium and other elements may soon
concentrate around anthills. Researchers from the department of
geology, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, have found that
anthills or termite mounds are natural indicators of the presence of
uranium, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, chromium, and barium among other
minerals.

The SVU team analysed termite mounds in Tummalapalle village in Kadapa
district, which is famous for its vast uranium resources. It noticed
that uranium concentration ranged from 10 to 36 ppm in the termite
mounds. The concentration of the radioactive element was less in the
soils where there are no anthills.

Tummalapalle is dotted by a number of termite mounds and this has
attracted the SVU researchers to analyse if they had anything to do
with the uranium mineralisation in the region. Their systematic
research revealed the presence of several other minerals. The
researcher based their analysis on a biogeochemical parameter called
“biological absorption coefficient” which showed that termite affected
soils contained huge amounts of chemical elements than the adjacent
soils.

This is the first time that a study has been conducted on
termite-mediated process to find minerals in India. The team comprised
Dr Arveti Nagaraju, S Reginald, K Sunil Kumar, V Harinath and Y
Sreedhar.

Termites dig the soil making burrows and in the process transport
upward buried components of the regolith (loose layer of soil around a
hard rock). Thus, a study of the soil samples from the termite mound
serves as an indicator of the nature of minerals present in the
vicinity. Termites also sample the sub-surface geological formations
for their construction material and mix large quantities of soil from
different horizons during mound building.

The concentration of various elements in termite soils and its
adjacent surface soils show that the elements like copper, lead, zinc,
nickel, cobalt, chromium, lithium, rubidium, strontium, barium and
uranium have been concentrated in more amounts in termite soils than
in the adjacent surface soils. The concentration of uranium ranged up
to 36 ppm in the termite mounds studied and there is no enrichment of
uranium in its adjacent surface soils.

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