New technology aims for tailings monitoring from space

Yankee Doodle tailings pond in Montana, USA. (Reference image by James St. John, Flickr).

A tailings dam motion monitor service that has been developed by researchers at the University of Nottingham and Terra Motion is now available to mining companies through Geospatial Insight, a company that provides business intelligence sourced from satellite imagery.

According to the organizations involved in the project, the service – called MotionMonitor-TSF – is designed to monitor ground movements in and around mine tailings facilities to provide early warnings of any potential structural failure. 

The solution combines the APSIS algorithm developed by Terra Motion with risk modelling methodologies devised by the University of Nottingham and allows for monitoring multiple tailings dams in one platform with timely identification of developing risk factors.

“Identifying potential failure, at an early stage, will enable companies to implement damage limitation strategies and, where appropriate, action to prevent failure can be launched minimising the financial and environmental fallout,” the groups said in a media statement.

The launching of the technology is supported by a recent study conducted by the University of Nottingham and Durham University, which revealed that the 2019 Brumadinho dam collapse in Brazil could have been foreseen using the APSIS algorithm. 

According to the study, by applying satellite radar imaging InSAR to check for small ground movements in and around the dam at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão mining complex, it would have been possible to predict its collapse around 40 days prior to the incident taking place, thus allowing time for a warning to be raised that the dam was becoming unstable.

“MotionMonitor-TSF is a ground-breaking approach to monitoring and highlighting ground surface movement around and within mine tailings facilities, helping to identify potential catastrophes before they happen and thereby preserving life, livelihoods, reputation and property,” Dave Fox, CEO of Geospatial Insight, said in a media statement.

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