The potential to reduce the risks posed by tailings dams using satellite-based information

Lumbroso, D. and McElroy, C. and Goff, C. and Roca, M. and Petkovsek, G. and Wetton, M. (2019) The potential to reduce the risks posed by tailings dams using satellite-based information. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 38.


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The failures of tailings dams, used to store waste from mining operations, pose a significant risk to the health of people and the environment, especially in many low income countries where the extractive industry makes a significant contribution to the nation's wealth. Recently the rate of failure of tailings dams has increased. The demand for raw materials and increases in intense rainfall as a result of climate change will exacerbate this issue in the future. The monitoring of tailings dams is essential to reduce their probability of failure. Virtually all the recent tailings dams failures were preventable. However, there is generally a lack of transparency and accountability for these structures by mining companies. In the past 10 years an increase in the global coverage and accuracy of Earth Observation (EO) based information has made it technically possible to use EO-based data to remotely monitor critical aspects of tailings dams, such as their deformation and the leakage of pollutants. This paper describes the development of an EO-based service, being piloted in Peru, which would allow tailings dams to be monitored cost effectively, and also help to forecast any potentially risk inducing behaviour from tailings dams several weeks in advance. Many regulatory bodies in low income countries do not have the resources to adequately monitor mining operations. A low cost EO-based system could improve the transparency and safety of tailings dams, allowing timely preventative interventions to be made where the probability of failure is found to be high.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: dam failure; mining; satellites; tailings dams
Subjects: Earth observation > General
Floods > Dams and reservoirs
Divisions: Floods
Depositing User: Helen Stevenson
Date Deposited: 02 Apr 2020 09:54
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2021 09:58

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