Earth observation in mining

by | Jul 15, 2019 | Inside Mines, Summer 2019 | 0 comments

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban regions by 2050, and the inevitable transformation of rural areas will increase the need for raw materials, generated through sustained mining activity. Advances in earth observation (EO) systems will help make that process more efficient and sustainable.

Earth observation (EO) systems provide excellent opportunities for such exploration. An EO system consists of a sensor system—a camera—that collects data from the Earth surface, a platform—a satellite—on which the sensor system is mounted, a data transfer system that delivers the collected data to the ground station and a set of algorithms to interpret the data.

However, the cameras we use in our everyday lives are designed for human vision and inadequate for mineral mapping. Human eyes can only see red, green and blue wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, but rocks and their mineral content can be better identified with hyperspectral cameras that can detect a broader wavelength range.

The minerals in rocks and soils have unique signatures. These mineral signatures are used to interpret the images collected from the hyperspectral cameras to create mineral maps of a given region, providing exploration geologists with a better understanding of geological processes and helping them narrow down an exploration area. Hyperspectral images are also useful for low-cost mine environmental monitoring and can help mining companies monitor their operations’ downstream impacts and develop effective mitigation measures.

EO systems can also help find new opportunities at abandoned mine sites and map minerals that can be exploited in an economical way. In surface mine operations, drones equipped with hyperspectral cameras can collect images from exposed orebody, helping mine planners update mineable reserves.

The applications for EO systems in the mining life cycle (from mineral exploration to mine closure) are seemingly endless, and this technology is becoming essential in the mining industry, with many benefits for future geological exploration and human development.

By H. Sebnem Duzgun
Fred Banfield Distinguished Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering