Rufford Small Grant: Future scenarios of lithium mining expansion and conservation of the Argentine Puna wetlands

Responsable: Elvira Casagranda
Funding source: The Rufford Foundation


In subtropical dry highlands such as the Argentine Puna, wetlands (peatbogs and lakes) are the major water reservoirs and play a key role in the regulation and provision of water resources, maintenance of local biodiversity and human activities. These fragile ecosystems are exposed to different threats, among which mining is probably the most rapidly expanding  (Seijsmonbegen et al., 2010)  and intensive one. Particularly, lithium mining has grown in the last decades in the region mainly due to the low cost of lithium extraction from brines and its booming global demand for rechargeable batteries (Izquierdo et al., 2015).

However, its environmental impacts are barely known. Brine desiccation to obtain lithium evaporates large amounts of water in areas of extreme aridity which could lead to a decrease of the base level of ground water, thus potentially affecting the hydrological functioning of wetlands  (Gallardo, 2011).
Domestic policies and market trends suggest the lithium exploitation will continue to grow in Argentina.
This project originates in the urgency to understand the environmental implications of extracting lithium from brines and to assess potential expansion scenarios useful for regional planning. Participative and transparent open access information, as a way to promote co-designed knowledge, is expected to provide both more relevant and legitimate scientific basis for such planning initiatives.

Members: Andrea Izquierdo, Ricardo Grau.