The role of InSAR in tailings monitoring and management - Mining Software - Technical Assurance, Resource & Mineral Governance - Enterprise SaaS
The role of InSAR in tailings monitoring and management

The role of InSAR in tailings monitoring and management


Tailings Storage Facilities (TSFs) are integral to almost any mining activity, but due to their very nature, they are inherently a high-risk activity that requires mining companies to carefully monitor and manage them throughout the entire life-cycle of the operation. While the facilities themselves represent minor economic value, their leakage or rupture can have considerable consequences for mining operators, wider community, environment and in fact, the entire industry. Over the past 20 years, the industry has felt the devastating repercussions of over 57 major TSF failures, with the catastrophic failure in Brumadinho in 2019 sparking a complete regulatory and industry-wide safety review of tailings dams. With increasing stakeholder pressure from governments, regulators, insurers, and investors to comply with new global standards and public disclosure requests, mining operators are now looking for ways to improve their tailings storage facility (TSF) management to work towards their goal of zero harm.  However, in order for companies to effectively identify, predict and rectify TSF issues, they require careful monitoring and management.  

See what score you get for your TSF management

  The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management – Principle 7 The recently launched Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management strives to achieve the ultimate goal of zero harm to people and the environment, and requires operators to take responsibility through all phases of a facilities life-cycle. The Standard covers six key topics, containing 15 principles and 77 specific auditable requirements for operators to adhere to. In particular, Principle 7 of the Standard requires operators to “design, implement and operate monitoring systems to manage risk at all phases of the facility life-cycle, including closure”. Some of the requirements include:
  • A system to verify design assumptions and for monitoring potential failure modes
  • Establish specific and measurable performance objectives, indicators, criteria, and performance parameters and include them in the design of the monitoring programmes that measure performance throughout the TSF life-cycle
  • Analyse technical monitoring data at the frequency recommended by the Engineer of Record (EoR) – assess and present evidence on any deviations from the expected performance. Promptly submit evidence to the EoR for review
  • Report the results of each of the monitoring programmes – the Responsible Tailings Facility Engineer (RTFE) and EOR shall review and approve monitoring reports
  And so with all of these requirements, one of the biggest questions facing the mining sector today is,
“What is the most effective method to monitor tailings storage facilities?”
  While there is no “one size fits all” kind of monitoring system, according to Mining Technology, TSF monitoring systems should combine a number of methods that address:
  • Operational stage of the tailings facility i.e. pre-construction, performance during operations, rehabilitation, and closure
  • Physical settings of the tailing’s facility i.e. climatic, topographical, and seismic settings
  • Construction material and method of construction
  • Tailings rheology
  • Static and dynamic pore pressure in the tailings facility
  • Accessibility to strategic monitoring locations
  In recent years, the mining industry has increased the use of interferometric-type of monitoring including ground-based radars (GB-InSAR) and satellite-based radar (InSAR), particularly to assist with the monitoring of tailings facilities overtime.

What is InSAR?

What is InSAR?

Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) is a remote sensing technique that utilises radar images of the Earth’s surface collected from orbiting satellites with active sensors capable of seeing through rain and cloud at any time of the day or might with millimetre accurate changes.


What is InSAR used for?

What is InSAR used for?

InSAR is used to detect, monitor and measure the magnitude of deformation in land surfaces over time. Understanding the extent and magnitude of such movement, particularly in the mining industry, helps mining operators identify and manage risk of landform features such as potential failures of tailings storage facilities (TSFs). Tailings dam failures are extremely detrimental to mine productivity, and surface deformation and unattended fractures are common precursors for costly and harmful events.

How is InSAR used to monitor tailings storage facilities (TSFs)?

TSFs are complex, large structures. It’s not uncommon to find embankments with a crest height of 25 m or more and an overall embankment length exceeding 5 km. Monitoring a structure of this size can be a daunting task using conventional methods. The use of InSAR is gaining in popularity and acceptance, not only by mine operators as a cost-effective means of monitoring large and sometimes challenging areas, but also by geotechnical engineering consultants whom have come to understand and appreciate the high level of reliable data and measurements provided. InSAR has proved extremely useful, particularly when adopted from the early onset of mine development and used right through to closure to provide well-established baseline data.

Find out how Newmont is utilising drone and InSAR to monitor tailings dams

  There are several benefits of using InSAR to monitor surface movements:
  • Improved accountability for all stakeholders with the ability to proactively monitor large scale infrastructure projects and adjoining assets for surface movement – before, during and after construction.
  • Improved safety – no requirements for personnel onsite
  • Reduced costs by capturing significant data sets more efficiently and effectively than traditional methods.
  • Less infrastructure – no onsite infrastructure requiring training, maintenance and repairs
  • Highly accurate results (several mm)
  • Economical & efficient – large areas can be captured in a single overpass
  • Improved data integrity & access – a “single source of truth” can be accessed securely on line with multiple devices anywhere with internet coverage.
  • Improved user friendly communications – end users do not require technical GIS/BIM skills or IT resources to interpret reports.
  • An excellent ROI – compared to alternate and more traditional solutions.
Decipher’s InSAR module helps measure & detect deformation of land surfaces
InSAR - Decipher Tailings Monitoring - Wesfarmers Decipher’s InSAR module allows you to monitor, measure and detect deformation of land surfaces over time and be automatically alerted to customer defined exceedances to a precision of 1-2 millimetres. Working with 3VG to utilise radar signals from earth-orbiting satellites, Decipher provides a way to visualise displacement (cm) on an interactive map to enable users to identify specific areas of deformation across a broad range of interest. Decipher analysis tools also allow users to then chart the details along a transect line or a single point over time. This also includes the ability to view historical imagery to show areas of deformation. Armed with Decipher’s InSAR, you can also:
  • Draw transect line across area of interest to display total displacement (cm) at each point over time in an exportable chart
  • Select a point on the map to display total displacement (cm) at each point over time in a chart that can be exported
  • Analyse areas of interest of 1500 square kilometers each and generate tens of millions of data points per area to provide a better understanding of the extent of movement
  • Detect 1 to 2 millimeters of displacement each year in an up and down, east and west direction
  • Set a maximum displacement threshold to flag any exceedances on the map
  • Assign subsidence related preventative and corrective actions to individuals with the ability to incorporate a second layer of approval and escalation of overdue actions, all with associated and automatic notifications

Learn more or request a demo


Effectively monitor your tailings storage facility with Decipher

Tailings Storage Facilities - TSF - Mining - Decipher - DecipherGreen - Tailings management - tailings dam monitoring - tailings storage facility software - environmental obligations software

Decipher’s Tailings solution is designed to provide you with key data and insights, enabling you to effectively monitor your TSF and your environmental obligations and compliance. Our solution can be securely accessed by industry, regulators, designers and operators involved in the management of TSFs. Decipher offers a comprehensive and functionally rich solution which combines regulatory (Compliance Management Software), mining waste management, stakeholder engagement, environmental monitoring, and environmental management system (EMS) tools to assist with tailings management:
  • View real-time data and receive exceedance alerts
  • Monitor land movement with remote sensing and InSAR datasets
  • Visualise real-time LiDAR data with insights into dam movement
  • Securely store and access all of your tailings data in the one place
  • Upload and reference key documentation
  • Visualise facilities across multiple sites in a single screen on a geospatial map
  • Monitor your facilities with InSAR, LiDAR, DEM and more
  • Capture a wide range of monitoring data and indicators su ch as surface and groundwater, decant pond water levels and quality, and embankment conditions
  • Capture and track obligations and conditions around your licence to operate to manage your key risks and actions
  • Action and task delegation for data collection with reminders
  • Maintain and track environmental monitoring compliance limits and exceedances
  • Manage and engage with all of your stakeholders with one central repository
  • Convert your engagements into actionable outcomes
  • Forecast, plan and track your sites activities using IBM’s Weather data
  • Create corporate report templates and meet requests for data provision from industry groups such as ICMM, Global Tailings Portal, PRI and UNEP
  • Integration capability with third party systems or public portals such as the Global Tailings Portal
Want to find out more about tailings storage monitoring?
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