Remotely monitoring safety of mine tailing dams: a joint effort of Brazil and the Netherlands

Published: 8 October 2019

This week, geotechnical experts and data scientists from Brazil and the Netherlands will collaborate in a hackathon to design and test a framework to remotely monitor safety of mine tailing dams. The hackathon is organized by Deltares and will take place in Delft.

795 mine tailing dams in Brazil

Tailing dams are earthen embankment structures used to store mine waste for decades ahead. Only a week ago a mine tailings dam ruptured in the state Mato Grosso in Brazil and released 580,000 cubic meters of gold mine waste up to 2 km away. Brazil has a recent history with this kind of disasters. In January this year the Brumadinho tailings dam in the state Minas Gerais breached, causing 248 deaths and severe damage. Three years before another tailings dam in Minas Gerais failed, flooding several villages – causing 19 deaths – and damaging the Doce river ecosystem. There are over 230 mine tailings dams in Brazil that pose a risk to the environment and the safety of society. Worldwide 6 major incidents have been reported so far this year.

Improve forecasting of failures

In Brazil and other countries there is a pressing need to improve the monitoring of operational and closed tailings dams and to forecast potentially catastrophic failures. Innovative technologies such as earth observation, data integration, artificial intelligence and early warning systems offer opportunities to achieve this goal. The main challenge is to integrate the different technologies into a framework that fits the needs of the Brazilian end-users and wider society.


The aim of the hackathon, which takes place from Monday October 7th until Friday October 11th, is to design and test a framework to remotely monitor safety of mine tailing dams. The first part of the hackathon will focus on need assessment and end-user requirements. This is followed by brainstorming, design of solutions and a proof-of-concept of system components by applying them on actual cases.

Participants in the hackathon are:

  • End-users and geology and mining experts from the National Mining Agency (ANM), the Environmental Agency of Minas Gerais (SEMAD) and the University of Ouro Preto (UFOP) in Brazil.
  • Remote sensing specialists, data scientists and geotechnical experts from Deltares, University of Twente, Delft University of Technology and company SkyGeo in the Netherlands.

Ton Peters (Deltares) and Luiz Panagio (National Mining Agency), both leaders of the hackathon: “In the hackathon we expect to proof the feasibility of such a monitoring framework and demonstrate its added value.”