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How Drones Can Help Prevent Tailings Dam Failures?

Two common causes of tailings dam failures below. Drones provide a fast, easy, safe and inexpensive way to address both these problems.


• seepage / piping problems

• poor management / maintenance.


Seepage and Leaking Pipes. Typically attempts are made to detect seepage problems using surface observation and sometimes through the digging of pits and application of moisture meters and other geotechnical equipment. These are manual solutions that are slow, expensive, difficult and are limited to safely accessible areas of the dam. This is where drones can help. Three things are needed for a fast, easy, safe and inexpensive drone solution:


• an autonomous drone or semi autonomous drone.

• a thermal camera mounted on the drone, ideally with additional HD capability.

• a cloud-based data-processing capability to process, analyze, store and manage the thermal data.


skymineUAV and our partners can provide all the components of this solution. One of our partners, DroneCore, has an autonomous drone-in-a-box that could be located near the tailings dam. It would be scheduled to fly the entire perimeter of the dam at whatever frequency is necessary, using the duel thermal and HD camera to collect imagery. Once it landed, the imagery would be uploaded to our chosen cloud processing facility and processed to detect the thermal contrasts that would indicate seepage or a leaking pipe. If detected, an alert would be sent to the appropriate people at the mine, along with the imagery. The drone would also be able to collect imagery of the dam that would be used to create a 3D DEM of the dam. This would be stored in the cloud and the data from each flight could be compared to that from previous flights to detect any changes in the size, shape or structure of the dam.


Poor Management and Maintenance. The United Nations Environmental Program published a report in 2017 titled Mine Tailings Storage: Safety is No Accident. One of their conclusions was:


“In the literature on the topic, the majority of the tailings storage-facility failures discussed can be attributed to a few factors – in particular, the lack of management continuity and inadequate resourcing (especially financial) for the facility. In cases of failure triggered by mechanisms such as overtopping or piping, inadequate management has occurred over a period of time. The failure may ultimately have been triggered by a particular mechanism, but the tailings storage facility should never have been permitted to reach a point where it was susceptible to such a triggering mechanism in the first place.”


The solution proposed above addresses this management and maintenance issue by automating the surveys, data processing and analysis. Since the monitoring and data processing happen automatically, it is much less likely to be skipped or forgotten, addressing both the lack of resources and continuity issues. The proposed solution also provides a high level of flexibility. Surveys can be scheduled for whatever frequency is necessary, and this can be changed to accommodate local conditions. For example, weather can be a contributing factor to tailings dam failure. Unusual levels of runoff, snowmelt or rainfall can overstress a dam. With an autonomous drone you can easily program it to fly more frequently when these conditions arise, detecting incipient problems before they become serious. It is the autonomous nature of this solution that makes it so compelling. Once it is set up, there is no other human involvement necessary. The flights, data upload, data processing and communication of results all happen automatically.


If you would like to learn more about skymineUAV, our partners and the application of drones to tailings dam monitoring, please contact us – info@skymineuav.com | +1 345 938 6565


*Note. Already have a drone program in place, or prefer to have it flown manually? We provide similar tailing methodologies via our fleet of semi autonomous drones and software partners. This requires an operator/pilot being available on site to perform either in-house flying or as a scheduled service. Image Source; https://www.northernminer.com/regulatory-issues/tailings-dam-failures-expected-to-increase-experts-say/1003703723/