Mining sector benefits from remote sensing
Published: 17 October 2016
Mine tailings are residues that remain after a mill has extracted or purified the mined ore. This residual material is generally dumped back on the mine site as a ‘landfill’ or so-called ‘Tailings Storage Facility’. The tailings slurry often has to be contained by an earthen embankment.
Unfortunately, tailings dams fail quite frequently – and these failures often have far-reaching consequences. One example is the failure of a dam owned by Samarco in Bento Rodrigues in Brazil, in November 2015. This failure led to a number of fatalities and caused serious damage to the local environment and ecosystem. The mining companies have a strong interest in improving the safety of these Tailings Storage Facilities.
Observe minute deviations
Deltares is able to correctly interpret data collected through remote sensing and subsequently combine this information with geotechnical prediction models. A key advantage of remote sensing is that it allows us to further hone existing models on the basis of a gigantic number of measuring points. The resulting input relates to changes in the soil structure that can be observed on the Earth’s surface. This method allows us to observe minute deviations from the tailing dam’s regular structure at an earlier stage and make more realistic predictions about its future stability. A great many calamities can be avoided with the aid of this information, since it allows the operator to take timely measures. Moreover, this solution allows for the targeted maintenance of tailing ponds at the sites where this is required most.
In addition to this combined use of remote sensing and geotechnical models, during the World Mining Congress, Deltares will also be drawing attention to other innovative solutions in the area of safety and risk-reduction measures in the mining sector – measures that improve the safety of ore transports by sea, for example.