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Hackathon on improved remote monitoring of mine tailing dams in Brazil


Alumni in Water, Energy and Climate


Geotechnical experts and data scientists from Brazil and the Netherlands joined a hackathon to design and test a framework to remotely monitor safety of mine tailing dams. The hackathon was organized by Deltares and took place in Delft, the Netherlands from 7 – 11 October.

Severe disasters

Brazil has 795 mine tailing dams. These dams are earthen embankment structures used to store mine waste for decades ahead. A recent burst was on 1 October when a mine tailings dam ruptured in the state Mato Grosso in Brazil and released 580,000 cubic meters of gold mine waste up to 2 km away. The national authorities reported only two injured people and no death.

Earlier this year the breach of the Brumadinho tailings dam in the state Minas Gerais was a much greater disaster, causing 248 deaths and severe damage. Three years before another tailings dam in Minas Gerais failed, flooding several villages – causing 19 deaths – and damaging the Doce river ecosystem. 

Dams at risk

There are over 230 mine tailings dams in Brazil that pose a risk to the environment and the safety of society. In Brazil -  as in many other countries  -  there is a pressing need to improve the monitoring of operational and closed tailings dams and to forecast potentially catastrophic failures. 

Innovative technologies such as earth observation, data integration, artificial intelligence and early warning systems offer opportunities to achieve this goal. 

Framework for prevention

The main challenge is to integrate the different technologies into a framework that fits the needs of the Brazilian end-users and wider society.

The hackathon aimed at designing and testing a framework to remotely monitor safety of mine tailing dams. The first part of the hackathon focused on need assessment and end-user requirements. This was followed by brainstorming, design of solutions and a proof-of-concept of system components by applying them on actual cases.

Hackathon participants were end-users and geology and mining experts from the National Mining Agency (ANM), the Environmental Agency of Minas Gerais (SEMAD) and the University of Ouro Preto (UFOP) in Brazil. Dutch participants included remote sensing specialists, data scientists and geotechnical experts from Deltares, University of Twente, Delft University of Technology and company SkyGeo in the Netherlands.

Ton Peters (Deltares) and Luiz Panagio (National Mining Agency), both leaders of the hackathon: 'In the hackathon we expect to proof the feasibility of such a monitoring framework and demonstrate its added value.'

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