Dr. Michael B. Parsons

Image Parsons, Michael
Research Scientist

Studies the geochemistry and mineralogy of mineral deposits and mine wastes, and develops new methods to characterize and mitigate the environmental impacts of metal mining activities.

Current research and/or projects

Dr. Parsons is currently leading a study in the Geological Survey of Canada’s (GSC) Critical Minerals Geoscience and Data Initiative which focuses on the effects of weathering on the distribution, mineralogy, and recoverability of critical minerals in historical mine tailings. Under the GSC’s GEM-GeoNorth Program, he is also studying the processes controlling mercury cycling in northern lake sediments and peats to help determine why mercury is rising is some watersheds and not others.

Research and/or project statements

  • Studying the cumulative effects of resource development on mining-impacted watersheds.

  • Identifying key controls on the transport and fate of metals, radionuclides, and rare earth elements from silver, niobium, and/or uranium mine tailings.

  • Developing new methods for determining baseline metal concentrations in soils, sediments and surface waters from mineralized areas.

  • Studying the effects of climate change on baseline geochemical conditions near metal mines in Northern Canada.

  • Characterizing the geochemical and mineralogical controls on arsenic release from historical gold mine wastes.

Professional activities / interests

  • Areas of expertise: geology; environmental geochemistry; analytical chemistry.

  • Interests: geochemistry and mineralogy of metal mine wastes; determination of baseline concentrations at mine sites; cycling of metals in freshwater and marine sediments; geochemical modeling; speciation of redox-sensitive elements.

  • Dr. Parsons holds Adjunct Professorships at Dalhousie University, Queen’s University, and the University of New Brunswick and regularly co-supervises students who are involved in his research activities.

  • Parsons’ studies have reduced ecosystem and human health risks associated with metals in the environment, and provided a sound scientific basis for improved environmental quality guidelines and for managing contaminated sites.

Education and awards

  • B.Sc. (Hons.) Chemistry and Earth Sciences, Dalhousie University, 1994
  • Ph.D. Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, 2001

Key publications

Ali, J.D., Guatame-Garcia, A., Jamieson, H.E., Parsons, M.B., Leybourne, M.I., Koch, I., Weber, K.P., Patch, D.J., Harrison, A.L., Vriens, B. (2024) Occurrence and mobility of thiolated arsenic in legacy mine tailings. Science of the Total Environment 929, Article 172596. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172596

Maciag, B.J., Brenan, J.M., Parsons, M.B., Kennedy, G.W. (2023) Sources of geogenic arsenic in well water associated with granitic bedrock from Nova Scotia, Canada, Science of the Total Environment 887, Article 163943. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163943

Miller, C.B., Parsons, M.B., Jamieson, H.E., Ardakani, O.H., Patterson, R.T., Galloway, J.M. (2022) Mediation of arsenic mobility by organic matter in mining‑impacted sediment from sub‐Arctic lakes: implications for environmental monitoring in a warming climate. Environmental Earth Sciences 81, Article 137. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-022-10213-2

Miller, C.B., Parsons, M.B., Jamieson, H.E., Ardakani, O.H., Gregory, B.R.B., Galloway, J.M. (2020) Influence of late-Holocene climate change on the solid-phase speciation and long-term stability of arsenic in sub-Arctic lake sediments. Science of the Total Environment 709, Article 136115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136115

LeBlanc, M.E., Parsons, M.B., Chapman, E.E., Campbell, L.M. (2019) Review of ecological mercury and arsenic bioaccumulation within historical gold mining districts of Nova Scotia. Environmental Reviews 28: 187–198. https://doi.org/10.1139/er-2019-0042

Miller, C.B., Parsons, M.B., Jamieson, H.E., Swindles, G.T., Nasser, N.A., Galloway, J.M. (2019) Lake-specific controls on the long-term stability of mining-related, legacy arsenic contamination and geochemical baselines in a changing northern environment, Tundra Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Applied Geochemistry 109, Article 104403. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2019.104403 

Galloway, J.M., Swindles, G.T., Jamieson, H.E., Palmer, M., Parsons, M.B., Sanei, H., Macumber, A.L., Patterson, R.T., Falck, H. (2018) Organic matter control on the distribution of arsenic in lake sediments impacted by ~65 years of gold ore processing in subarctic Canada. Science of the Total Environment 622–623: 1668–1679. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.10.048

DeSisto, S.L., Jamieson, H.E., Parsons, M.B. (2017) Arsenic mobility in weathered gold mine tailings under a low-organic soil cover. Environmental Earth Sciences 76: 773. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-017-7041-7

DeSisto, S.L., Jamieson, H.E., Parsons, M.B. (2016) Subsurface variations in arsenic mineralogy and geochemistry following long-term weathering of gold mine tailings. Applied Geochemistry 73: 81–97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2016.07.013

Parsons, M.B., Little, M.E. (2015) Establishing geochemical baselines in forest soils for environmental risk assessment at the Montague and Goldenville gold districts, Nova Scotia, Canada. Atlantic Geology 51: 364–386. https://doi.org/10.4138/atlgeol.2015.017

Little, M.E., Parsons, M.B., Law, B.A., Milligan, T.G., Smith, J.N. (2015) Impact of historical gold mining activities on marine sediments in Wine Harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada. Atlantic Geology 51: 344–363. https://doi.org/10.4138/atlgeol.2015.016

Jamieson, H.E., Walker, S.R., Parsons, M.B. (2015) Mineralogical characterization of mine waste. Applied Geochemistry 57: 85–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2014.12.014

Piatak, N.M., Parsons, M.B., Seal, R.R., II (2015) Characteristics and environmental aspects of slag: A review. Applied Geochemistry 57: 236–266. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2014.04.009

Desbarats, A.J., Parsons, M.B., Percival, J.B. (2015) Arsenic mobility in mildly alkaline drainage from an orogenic lode gold deposit, Bralorne Mine, British Columbia. Applied Geochemistry 57: 45–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2014.11.015

Parsons, M.B., Little, M.E., Desbarats, A.J., Percival, J.B., LeBlanc, K.W.G., Vaive, J.E., Pelchat, P. (2013) Baseline geochemistry and controls on mine drainage composition in the Bridge River Mining District, British Columbia; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 6435, 269 p.; https://doi.org/10.4095/292203

Parsons, M.B., LeBlanc, K.W.G., Hall, G.E.M., Sangster, A.L., Vaive, J.E., Pelchat, P. (2012) Environmental geochemistry of tailings, sediments and surface waters collected from 14 historical gold mining districts in Nova Scotia; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 7150, 326 p.; https://doi.org/10.4095/291923

Desbarats, A.J., Parsons, M.B., Percival, J.B., Beauchemin, S., Kwong, Y.T.J. (2011) Geochemistry of mine waters draining a low-sulfide, gold-quartz vein deposit, Bralorne, British Columbia. Applied Geochemistry 26: 1990–2003. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2011.06.029

Meunier, L., Walker, S.R., Wragg, J., Parsons, M.B., Koch, I., Jamieson, H.E., Reimer, K.J. (2010) Effects of soil composition and mineralogy on the bioaccessibility of arsenic from tailings and soil in gold mine districts of Nova Scotia. Environmental Science & Technology 44: 2667-2674. https://doi.org/10.1021/es9035682

Walker, S.R., Parsons, M.B., Jamieson, H.E., Lanzirotti, A. (2009) Arsenic mineralogy of near-surface tailings and soils: Influences on arsenic mineralogy and bioaccessibility in the Nova Scotia gold mining districts. Canadian Mineralogist 47: 533–556. https://doi.org/10.3749/canmin.47.3.533

Parsons, M.B., Cranston, R.E. (2006) Influence of lead smelter emissions on the distribution of metals in marine sediments from the Bay of Chaleur, Eastern Canada. Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis 6: 259–275. https://doi.org/10.1144/1467-7873/05-082

Parsons, M.B., Percival, J.B. (eds.) (2005) Mercury: Sources, Measurements, Cycles, and Effects.  Mineralogical Association of Canada Short Course Series, Volume 34, 297 p.

Parsons, M.B., Bird, D.K., Einaudi, M.T., Alpers, C.N. (2001) Geochemical and mineralogical controls on trace element release from the Penn Mine base-metal slag dump, Calaveras County, California. Applied Geochemistry 16: 1567–1593. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0883-2927(01)00032-4


Recent publications are available on the Open Science and Technology Repository at the NRCan Library web site.