2019 – Leveraging Open-Access Remote Sensing Imagery to Monitor Dam Infrastructure: Case Study of the Cadia Tailings Dam Collapse, Australia

Sean Minhui Tashi Chua, Thomas Fuhrmann, Matthew Garthwaite

Satellite remote sensing data can be used to monitor environmental processes and inform disaster risk reduction and hazard early warning. This paper describes the analysis of satellite remote sensing images to investigate the partial wall collapse of a tailings dam at the Cadia gold-copper mine in Australia that occurred on 9th March 2018. Our case study uses freely available remote sensing imagery acquired by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 (radar) and Sentinel-2 (multispectral) satellite constellations to monitor land surface changes in the Cadia mine area before and after the collapse. In this paper we discuss the benefits of utilising both radar and multispectral remote sensing imagery in a holistic approach to remote sensing, which could be used for continuous, near-real time monitoring of risk-related infrastructure such as dams without the need for in-situ measurement equipment.

We applied the Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) technique to measure surface displacements and interferometric coherence maps from a stack of Sentinel-1 radar images acquired between 2nd December 2015 and 25th June 2018 at regular 12 day intervals. The time series of surface displacements show a significant increase in the rate of movement of the dam wall in the area that eventually breached in the two months prior to the collapse. This change in movement behaviour was not observed at parts of the dam wall that remained intact. This analysis demonstrates the potential for InSAR monitoring to identify issues in advance of infrastructure failure, which could allow risk mitigation strategies to be implemented by the mine operator. We used interferometric coherence data to observe changes in the dam wall and surrounding areas before and after the collapse. A drop in coherence occurred in the breached section of dam wall, indicating the surface change caused by the collapse. Coherence for unaffected parts of the dam wall remained stable. Sentinel-2 multispectral imagery acquired between 2nd July 2017 and 24th June 2018 show the timing, extent and effects of the collapse as well as the rate of tailings movement.

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