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Monitoring Abandoned Mines, Mining Hazards and the Results of Mine Site Rehabilitation and Restoration

By Mark Salopek (, RADARSAT International

Anyone who has worked in the mining industry is aware of the many potential environmental or physical hazards associated with operational, closed, or abandoned mines. Increasingly, the public and governments are also becoming aware and are putting considerable pressure on mining companies and operators to address all known or potential hazards when planning a mine closure and rehabilitation of surrounding lands. As a result, a look at new monitoring technologies and methodologies has evolved.

At the forefront of the technological curve for abandoned mine monitoring is high- resolution Earth-observation (EO) satellite imagery. This technology only recently became available to the commercial user as a result of changes in government and military restrictions on the application of optical satellites, and this article provides a brief overview of the technology and the benefits derived from using high-resolution satellite imagery for abandoned mine monitoring.

Traditional on-site or aerial methods of monitoring and assessing mine hazards can be costly and inefficient. Mines are often far removed from civilized and populated areas and the logistics of on-site or aerial surveillance can be onerous. In comparison, high- resolution Earth-observation satellite data is cost-effective (e.g. large areas can be monitored remotely avoiding high logistics costs), easily interpreted, and suitable for long-term monitoring. Moreover, mine sites can be monitored on either an ad hoc or a regular basis to meet security and operational needs. And, considering mine rehabilitation is an activity that can last decades, mine operators will be able to use routine satellite monitoring to assure government agencies and the public that the mine rehabilitation programs and plans are being implemented to meet regulatory and environmental mandates. As well, satellite monitoring can provide many social, economic, and political benefits.

Social Benefits

Environmental compliance is without a doubt the most important social benefit. Mining companies and operators are increasingly aware of the influence that environmental and community groups have made on government policy. In response, socially-conscious mining companies are developing long-term plans for the rehabilitation or restoration of mine sites to comply with government and community requirements. High-resolution mine monitoring complements the on-site efforts of mine operators to improve environmental conditions at their mine sites.

Economic Benefits

The principal economic benefit of mine monitoring via EO satellite is cost savings. Satellite imaging addresses the problem of monitoring remote mine sites without incurring the costs of the administration, accommodation, and logistics of surveillance by on-site teams or aerial monitoring. In addition, high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to create a baseline against which mining companies, government agencies, and environmental groups can evaluate and assess mine rehabilitation and environmental recovery plans. Information derived from high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to mitigate insurance and bonding costs and legal claims, as well as to confirm environmental compliance.

Another benefit of mine monitoring with high-resolution satellite imagery is the information utility value of the data. The information can be introduced into a variety of geographic, mining, and government systems in the form of maps, GIS data layers, reports, images, and presentations. As the data can be collected quickly, routinely, and reliably, mining companies and all groups interested in their activities are able to apply the information in a form that has real meaning to end users.

Finally, high-resolution imagery of mine sites can be used for internal business and operational decisions and due diligence activities requiring confidentiality and discretion. Overall, the information provided can be used to support a range of corrective methods such as grouting of mine voids, construction of land bridges, and the removal and replacement of overburden.

Political Benefits

Companies that utilize high-resolution satellite imagery have an effective public relations tool at their disposal for demonstrating a commitment to remedial environmental initiatives. The results of remedial efforts are clearly visible in the imagery to the specialist and non-specialist alike. The cliché that a” picture is worth a thousand words” appropriately summarizes the value of high-resolution imagery to all stakeholders.

The major hazards that can potentially be monitored by high-resolution satellite include:
  • Acid Mine Drainage
  • Clogged Streams and Stream Lands
  • Dangerous Highwall, Impoundment, Slides, Piles, and Embankments
  • Gob Piles
  • Hazardous Equipment or Facilities
  • Surface Burning and Smoke from Underground Mine Fires
  • Industrial Waste
  • Mine Openings

High-Resolution EO Satellites Monitoring Solution

QuickBird and Ikonos, the world’s only commercial sub-metre and 1-metre resolution optical satellites, are the latest commercial high-resolution EO satellites ideally suited for mine monitoring. While the specific imaging capabilities of these satellites are dependent on their respective design features and orbit geometry, in general, these satellites image a different part of the globe with every orbit. Within a few days a database of information is acquired of the planet that can be applied for a variety of applications and purposes, such as mine monitoring. Specific products derived from the data include:
  • Orthorectified Images
  • Digital Elevation Models
  • Vector Layer Overlay and Imagery Interpretation
  • Thematic and Point Feature Maps
  • Change Detection Models and Baselines
For additional information about the application of high-resolution satellite imagery for mine monitoring please contact the author at or RADARSAT International Client Services at

RADARSAT International
tel: 604-244-0400
toll-free (NA): 1-888-780-6444
fax: 604-244-0404

Entire article © RADARSAT International 2002

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