mine tailings beach profile

Measure your mine tailings beach lift thicknesses, slopes and profiles from space

By Gerry Mitchell, P.Geo, President PhotoSat

mine tailings beach profile

Satellite photo of a mine tailings beach

Mine tailing beach designs have optimum slopes.

Every mine site tailings storage facility (TSF) design includes optimum slopes for the tailings beaches. Tailings beaches that are either steeper or flatter than the designed slopes can have serious short-term and long-term consequences for the capacity and cost of the TSF.  Tailings engineers control the beach slopes by modifying the composition of solids and fluids discharged into the TSF in each lift.

Detailed information on tailings beach slope design and the consequences of different beach slopes can be found on the Tailings.info website.

Elevation image of a mine tailings beach with 50 cm elevation contours on the tailings beach surface.

Elevation image of a mine tailings beach with 50 cm elevation contours on the tailings beach surface.

Semi consolidated tailings beaches cannot be accessed by conventional surveying.

Measuring and monitoring the tailings beach slopes are challenging.  Since the tailings beaches are semi consolidated, they cannot be safely accessed by conventional surveying methods. 

Suncor review of tailings storage facility surveying methods found PhotoSat most cost effective.

In 2014 Paul Lomond, lead surveyor for the Suncor Steepbank and Millennium oil sands mines, published a review of a pilot project assessing various methods of surveying tailings storage areas.  This review is available on the
Suncor tailings surveying page.  Suncor concluded that PhotoSat surveying is the most cost effective method for surveying their tailings beaches.

Incremental tailings thickness (isopach) surveys

In order to control the tailings beach slopes, mine site tailings engineers need to be able to determine the actual distribution of tailings on the tailings beaches.  Images showing the increase in elevation of the beach surface between two dates show the tailings engineers the actual distribution of the tailings over the time period. 

Increase in mine tailings beach height over a three month period.  25 cm contours of tailings thickness.

Increase in mine tailings beach height over a three month period. 25 cm contours of tailings thickness.

Mine tailings beach profiles from PhotoSat surveys

Mine tailings beach profiles from PhotoSat surveys

If you would like more information on PhotoSat surveying you can visit the following links.

Mining

Mine site volume reconciliations

Mine Leach Pad & Ore Stockpile Volumes

Mine Tailings Surveying

Mine Site Toes & Crests

 

 

wv3 accuracy study with histogram

The spark that ignited the PhotoSat accuracy studies

wv3 accuracy study with histogram

2016 PhotoSat WorldView-3 satellite surveying accuracy study, Asmara, Eritrea.

“Everything that the last speaker just told you is wrong”.   This shocked me since I was the last speaker.  I was just rejoining the audience after my presentation at a satellite data distributors’ conference in San Diego in 2008.

I had given a presentation on PhotoSat’s experience using satellite photos for elevation mapping.  I had shown comparisons between PhotoSat stereo IKONOS satellite elevation mapping and hundreds of mining exploration drill  collar elevations.  Our results suggested an IKONOS mapping accuracy of better than 1.0m in elevation.

The speaker who followed me showed the published specifications of the IKONOS satellite.  He declared that this proved that the results I had just shown were impossible. Then he went on to talk about his own stereo IKONOS mapping results.  His results showed 5m to 10m in elevation mapping accuracy.

 

Looking for a way to unambiguously measure our accuracy

The speaker who challenged PhotoSat’s results in the San Diego meeting actually did us a huge favor.  Although it did not feel like that as I sat fuming in my chair.  His comments provided the motivation for me to find a way to prove we were right.  After this meeting we set about looking for a way to unambiguously demonstrate the accuracy of the PhotoSat stereo satellite elevation mapping.

 

Searching for a detailed, high quality, ground survey data set

We concluded that to prove our accuracy we needed to find a highly accurate ground survey data set covering hundreds of square kilometers. But where to find it?

About two months later, a light came on.  I realized that we might find the elevation survey data that we needed from a large, regional, mining exploration gravity survey.  The topographic surveys associated with mining exploration gravity surveys are among the most accurate and carefully checked topographic surveys in the world.

 

An old friend tells me about an existing ground survey data set

I phoned Kevin MacNabb, president of MWH Geo-Surveys International.  Kevin did gravity survey contracts for me when I was a geophysicist at BP.  I said “Kevin, I am looking for a large regional gravity survey with thousands of accurate topographic survey points.  I want to use the topographic survey data to measure the accuracy of PhotoSat’s stereo IKONOS satellite mapping.”

I added “it would be great if the data is in an area of sparse vegetation in a remote region of the world.  This way we can prove the accuracy of our stereo satellite topographic mapping and show that we can do this anywhere in the world.”

Kevin replied “how would 45,000 ground survey points covering over a thousand square kilometers just west of Asmara, Eritrea do?”  For us this was the perfect data set. Eritrea was a challenging place to work.  It had just emerged from a civil war.  A perfect place to be mapping from satellites. For a fuller description of the  click this link.

 

Eritrea differential GPS survey crew and equiptment

Asmara Project, Eritrea. MWH Geo-Surveys differential GPS survey crew and equipment. Over 45,000 ground points were surveyed between 2004 and 2008. The Magellan RTK base with a ProMarkTM 500 GPS rover are shown in this photo.

 

The Eritea ground survey data is owned by an existing PhotoSat customer

It turned out that Kevin’s customer for the Eritrea gravity survey, Sunridge Gold, was also a PhotoSat customer for stereo IKONOS mapping.  We negotiated the right to use the 45,000 ground survey points for accuracy studies.  In return, we did some additional stereo IKONOS mapping for the company.

 

PhotoSat’s first comprehensive accuracy study

We were immediately able to use 10,000 of the Eritrea ground survey points to measure the elevation accuracy of 200 km2 of stereo IKONOS elevation grid.  PhotoSat had already produced this elevation grid for Sunridge Gold.  We measured the accuracy of the PhotoSat elevation grid as 48cm Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) and .  The full 2008 IKONOS Eritrea Accuracy study is available to review.

 

PhotoSat accuracy measurement and improvement

Since 2008, PhotoSat has been using the 45,000 Eritrea ground survey points as a test bed to measure accuracy improvements in the PhotoSat processing.  This gives us a quantitative measure of accuracy improvements.  We have shown the results in many conferences and published them.  If there are still disbelievers they are certainly not challenging us publicly.

 

Satellite companies start to provide stereo test data over the Eritrea site.

In 2009, two commercial high resolution satellite companies, GeoEye and DigitaGlobe, provided stereo satellite photos over the PhotoSat Eritrea test area.   The DigitalGlobe data was from the 50cm ground resolution WorldView-1 satellite launched in September 18, 2007.  The GeoEye data was from the 50cm ground resolution GeoEye-1 satellite launched on September 6, 2008.

PhotoSat published elevation mapping accuracy reports for both new satellite systems.  The stereo GeoEye-1 PhotoSat elevation grid had an accuracy of 31cm RMSE, determined by 8,893 ground survey points.  The stereo WorldView-1 PhotoSat elevation grid had an accuracy of 35cm RMSE, determined by over 15,000 ground survey points.

 

WorldView-2 joint DigitalGlobe and PhotoSat news release on Eritrea accuracy study

Soon after the commissioning of the WorldView-2 satellite in early 2010 DigitalGlobe asked PhotoSat to use its new processing system to conduct an accuracy study over the Eritrea test area using stereo WorldView-2 photos.  The PhotoSat Eritrea Accuracy study showed WorldView-2 accuracy of better than 30cm RMSE.  These results were issued as a  on March 16, 2010.  The news release is available here.

 

With accuracy improvement PhotoSat mapping becomes PhotoSat surveying

Once the PhotoSat elevation grids achieved an accuracy of better than 30cm many of our customers began using them in place of ground surveying.  We consequently renamed our products that have accuracy better than 30cm to surveying products.

 

The Eritrea ground survey data set has been used for hundreds of PhotoSat accuracy tests and studies

Since PhotoSat first acquired the 45,000 ground survey points in Eritrea, we have used the data for hundreds of accuracy test and studies.

 

2016 PhotoSat Eritrea accuracy studies

In 2016, we used the current version of the PhotoSat Geophysical Processing System to process a full range a stereo satellite photos over the Eritrea test area.  Some of these results are published on our website on the links below.  The link names include the satellite name, the number of ground control points used in the processing and the RMSE accuracy.

 

WorldView-3, Eritrea, 21 GCP, RMSE 15cm

WorldView-2, Eritrea, 21 GCP, RMSE 14cm

WorldView-3, Eritrea, 2 GCP, RMSE 19cm

WorldView-2, Eritrea, 2 GCP, RMSE 19cm

WorldView-1, Eritrea, 21 GCP, RMSE 19cm

WorldView-1, Eritrea, 9 GCP, RMSE 23cm

Pleiades-1B, Eritrea, 74 GCP, RMSE 26cm

Pleiades-1B, Eritrea, 1 GCP, RMSE 28cm

Kompsat-3A, Eritrea, 11 GCP, RMSE 48cm

Kompsat-3A, Eritrea, 1 GCP, RMSE 53cm

ALOS PRISM, Eritrea, 3 GCP, RMSE 1.4m 

SPOT 7, Eritrea, 1 GCP, RMSE 1.4m

ALOS PRISM, Eritrea, 1 GCP, RMSE 2.4m 

 

If you would like more information on PhotoSat surveying you can visit the following links.

Satellite surveying

Mining Industry Applications

Oil and Gas Industry Applications

Case histories

PhotoSat ground control: Using existing ground survey data instead of clearing land mines

300km2 PhotoSat survey in Kurdistan showing existing lines of GPS survey points.

“It’s too dangerous to survey any of the ground targets”

“The survey crew says they can’t survey the ground targets because of land mines and unexploded shells. I think it’s because it’s 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) over there and they don’t want to leave their air conditioned camp. Either way we just cannot get you surveys of any ground points,” said the Geophysical Operations Manager for a 3D seismic survey in Kurdistan in early 2012.

We needed ground survey control to ensure accuracy for the 3D seismic survey

What were we to do? The customer wanted a PhotoSat survey to plan a +$20M 3D seismic survey over a 300km2 area in Kurdistan. We already had the satellite photos but could not get survey coordinates for any ground features that we could identify on the photos.

To be of best use for the 3D seismic survey, the PhotoSat survey needed to be accurate to 30cm in elevation and 1m horizontal. However, without ground survey reference it would only be accurate to about 3m horizontally and vertically.

We had to find a way to use existing ground survey data

Our only option to produce an accurate PhotoSat survey was to figure out some way to use existing ground survey data.

The oil company already had seismic survey lines on a 5km by 5km grid covering the project area. Based on this data they had drilled an exploration oil well at a cost of more than $10M.

It was a discovery well. They had discovered a significant column of oil. Now they needed a 50m by 50m grid of seismic data covering the entire project to decide where to drill next.

Existing lines of GPS survey points every 25m

The oil company’s existing 5km by 5km grid of seismic lines had GPS survey points every 25m along the lines. These survey points were accurate to 10cm in x,y,z. The company provided us with this data.

Absolutely no sign of the seismic lines on the satellite photos

Initially we were hoping that we would be able to see the seismic lines on the satellite photos. We thought that we could use the survey points and some evidence of ground disturbance to accurately reference the satellite photos to the ground.

The satellite photos were already within 3m of their true position. We were sure that when we zoomed into the high resolution satellite photos we would see some ground disturbance along the seismic lines.

No luck there! Due to the arid, rocky conditions of the ground we could see absolutely no sign of the seismic lines on the satellite photos no matter how closely we looked.

Tried shifting the PhotoSat survey grid until it matched the ground survey points

We then attempted to match the elevation profiles along the seismic lines to the 1m PhotoSat survey grid. We chose areas where the seismic lines crossed each other at 90 degrees.

We tried shifting the PhotoSat survey grid in x,y,z until we got the best match between the seismic line elevation profiles and the PhotoSat survey grid at the line intersections.

Shifting and matching seemed to take forever

This shifting and matching seemed to take forever. We started by making an ArcGIS TIN from the PhotoSat survey grid. Next we intersected the TIN with a file of the survey points. Then we extracted the PhotoSat survey elevation at each survey point and compared the elevations.

We shifted the TIN and repeated the intersection and elevation extraction.  We did this over and over again. Finally we found the shifts with the best horizontal and vertical matches between the survey data sets where the seismic lines crossed.

This was a painfully tedious, slow process. That is, until we thought about the alternative – clearing land mines and unexploded shells to get new survey points.

Established ten ground control points at seismic line intersections

Eventually, at each of ten seismic line intersections we located the best horizontal and vertical matches between the PhotoSat survey and the seismic survey data. At all of these ten points the surveys seemed to match to within 25cm horizontally and 10cm vertically.

Adjusted the entire PhotoSat survey grid to match the ground control points

With these ten ground control points we were then able to adjust the entire PhotoSat survey grid. We were hoping we had produced a PhotoSat survey grid accurate to better than 50cm horizontally and 30cm vertically.

North South scatter plot of the elevation differences between +5,000 ground GPS survey points and the 1m PhotoSat survey grid. The standard deviation of the elevation differences is 28cm.

Achieved an overall match to the +5,000 GPS survey points of 28cm

When we compared elevations of the 1m PhotoSat survey grid to the elevations of all of the points along all of the seismic survey lines there was a match of 28cm RMSE.

After this first PhotoSat survey project in Kurdistan in 2012, we surveyed several other Kurdistan projects over the next three years. We encountered the same situation in each project, and solved them all the same way.

We eventually developed a process to find the best matches automatically.  This has now become our standard method on all advanced projects with existing ground survey data. We no longer need to incur the time and costs of surveying ground features that can be seen on the satellite photos.

More details of our current process are available by clicking here.

Looking for more information on PhotoSat surveys?

 Advanced projects with existing ground survey data

 Guidelines for Stereo Satellite Ground Control Targets

Satellite surveying accuracy studies

PhotoSat Technology

 

 

 

 

3D satellite photo showing some of the 775 ground survey points

PhotoSat publishes 21 new satellite surveying accuracy studies

3D satellite photo showing some of the 775 ground survey points

3D WorldView-2 satellite photo of Asmara, Eritrea, showing some of the 775 ground survey points that determine the 14cm PhotoSat surveying accuracy.

21 PhotoSat surveying accuracy studies from seven different stereo satellites

PhotoSat has published 21 new satellite surveying and mapping accuracy studies, now available on our website. The studies include data from seven different stereo satellite systems. The best results show elevation surveying accuracies of better than 15cm.

The accuracy studies include stereo satellite data from the following satellites:

  • WorldView-1
  • WorldView-2
  • WorldView-3
  • Pleiades-1B
  • KOMPSAT-3A
  • SPOT-7
  • ALOS PRISM

 

PhotoSat has measured accuracy on over 700 stereo satellite surveying projects

PhotoSat has delivered over 700 satellite surveying projects since 2007 and we have carried out accuracy evaluations on the majority of them. Most of the survey data on these projects belongs to our customers and cannot be shared publically; however, customers have provided feedback on many of these projects.

The results of these 21 new accuracy studies are consistent with our project accuracy evaluations and customer feedback.

 

PhotoSat accuracy test areas in Eritrea and California

The accuracy studies were conducted over two test areas. One test area is west of Asmara, Eritrea where PhotoSat has access to more than 45,000 ground survey points over a 50km by 20km block.

The second area is in SE California where PhotoSat uses a very accurate Opentopography.org open source LiDAR survey.

 

The effect of different numbers of ground survey points

The studies employed different numbers of ground survey control points for each test area and each satellite system. For some of the satellite stereo pairs the accuracy is significantly improved by increasing the number of ground survey control points.

For example, the WorldView-2 survey for Eritrea is accurate to 19cm in elevation with two ground control survey points, and accurate to 14cm in elevation with 21 ground control points.

In contrast, the accuracy of the WorldView-3 survey for the California test area is not improved by additional ground survey points. This WorldView-3 survey is accurate to 13cm in elevation with one ground survey control point and with 153 ground survey control points.

 

PhotoSat has been continuously producing satellite accuracy studies since 2007

In order to provide objective quantifiable accuracy data for stereo satellite surveying and mapping, PhotoSat has been continuously producing accuracy studies since 2007. We have previously published nine of these studies. The rest of the studies were used for calibrating and improving our processes.

 

21 new accuracy studies all processed with the same version of the PhotoSat processing system

The 21 new accuracy studies were produced with the most recent version (2016) of the PhotoSat processing system. Where possible we used satellite data produced by the 2015 or 2016 versions of the satellite operators’ ground processing systems.

 

Summary of PhotoSat 2016 accuracy study results

Satellite Test area km² GCP RMSE
WorldView-3 California 150 1 13cm
WorldView-3 California 146 153 13cm
WorldView-3 Eritrea 100 21 15cm
WorldView-2 California 173 1 15cm
WorldView-2 California 173 153 12cm
WorldView-2 Eritrea 100 21 14cm
WorldView-1 California 174 153 14cm
WorldView-3 Eritrea 198 2 19cm
WorldView-2 Eritrea 400 2 19cm
WorldView-1 Eritrea 100 21 19cm
WorldView-1 California 174 1 23cm
WorldView-1 Eritrea 420 9 23cm
Kompsat-3A California 144 14 21cm
Pleiades-1B Eritrea 189 74 26cm
Pleiades-1B Eritrea 189 1 28cm
Kompsat-3A California 144 1 50cm
Kompsat-3A Eritrea 130 11 48cm
Kompsat-3A Eritrea 130 1 53cm
SPOT 7 Eritrea 1,458 1 4m
ALOS PRISM Eritrea 2,300 3 2m
ALOS PRISM Eritrea 2,300 1 4m

See PhotoSat’s accuracy studies overview for full details.

For more information about PhotSat’s surveying accuracy, please see our satellite surveying case histories or visit the following links.

Satellite surveying

Satellite survey of Libya with ground survey points

Are PhotoSat satellite surveys really more reliable than ground surveys?

By Gerry Mitchell, P.Geo, President PhotoSat

Satellite survey of Libya with ground survey points

World View 2 satellite survey in Libya with ground survey points for 3D oil and gas seismic survey.

 

In 2008, I would get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever customers phoned or emailed to tell us that the PhotoSat surveys did not match their ground surveys. Back then, I was sure there was a problem with the satellite photos, or that we had made some terrible mistake in our processing.

However, by 2013 our customers were using PhotoSat satellite surveys to check and adjust their ground surveys.

Ground surveys right, PhotoSat surveys wrong?

Back in 2008 it was clear to everyone, including me, that ground survey data was right and satellite survey data wrong. After all, ground survey data was collected by someone who had stood on the ground. It was the “ground truth”.

In comparison, the PhotoSat surveys were produced from satellite photos taken from 750 kilometers above the earth. Of course the ground surveys were right and the satellite photo surveys were wrong. Or so we thought. As we did more and more satellite surveying projects, we began finding obvious ground survey errors. Some of these projects had thousands of ground survey points.

ground target at mining project drill hole

Ground target at a mining project drill hole with arms 20cm wide and 1m long. The image to the right show how this target appears on a 50cm ground resolution GeoEye satellite photo.

 

Some ground surveys wrong, PhotoSat right

We began finding projects with two sets of ground survey data, one set matching the PhotoSat surveying perfectly and the other set mismatching. Investigating these cases with customers was eye-opening and often entertaining.

On one project in southern Mexico, all of the ground survey points on or near roads matched the PhotoSat surveying perfectly. The points in remote areas, particularly on the tops of hills, had differences of two to five meters in elevation.

So what happened? The contract surveyor had used his high quality, bulky, GPS surveying equipment for the survey points that he could drive to. But he had sent his young assistant with a hiker’s GPS to all of the survey points on the hilltops. The surveyor was confident that the client would never check those remote points.

By 2010, we had become much more confident in the accuracy and reliability of our PhotoSat surveying. When there was a mismatch between PhotoSat surveying and ground GPS surveying we began suggesting that the PhotoSat surveying was “usually right”.  As you can well imagine, many of our customers, and all of their surveyors, were sure that I was delusional.

We had to find another strategy. We began saying, “Thanks for telling us about our mistake. Please send us a copy of your survey data and we will see if we can identify and fix our problem”.

Drill hole with 40cm by 40cm white concrete block

Drill hole with a 40cm by 40cm white concrete block on a mining project in central Mexico. The drill holes on this project were surveyed three times by three different GPS survey contractors. The coordinates of this drill hole on the three surveys are shown on an extreme zoom of the PhotoSat WorldView satellite survey. The PhotoSat survey has more reliable coordinates than any of the 3 GPS surveys.

 

Not all GPS surveys created equal

We also learned that not all ground GPS surveys are created equal. All good quality GPS systems record the GPS signals for later processing, so we began asking for copies of these GPS recordings along with the GPS ground survey coordinates.

The effect of this simple request on the quality of the survey data was remarkable. Some surveyors would immediately go and resurvey the ground points as soon as we asked for the GPS recordings.

By processing the GPS recordings we could see how long the surveyors had been at each point. In many of the significant mismatches, we discovered that the GPS recording times were much too short for ten centimeter accuracy. At first we had pushback from many surveyors when we suggested that their coordinates were probably inaccurate.

Then in June, 2011, the International Association of Oil and Gas producers published a thick report of guidelines for GPS surveying, freely available as a PDF file. For us this was a godsend.

Whenever there was debate about GPS accuracy, we would email a copy of the report saying, “These are the guidelines that we are relying on.  Please tell us where they are wrong”. All the discussions about recording times for GPS accuracy stopped.

Most ground surveys are good quality

Of course, it’s worth noting that most of the ground surveys that we receive are very good. Only occasionally are there serious problems that we cannot easily resolve. And of course PhotoSat also makes occasional processing errors and mistakes.

We always investigate whenever the PhotoSat surveying does not match the ground surveying. When we find it to be our mistake, we fix the PhotoSat survey data and resend it to the customer at no cost.

Correcting multiple mismatching ground surveys

By 2013, many of our repeat customers no longer assumed that the PhotoSat surveys were wrong when they did not match their ground surveys. In just five years there had been a 180 degree shift. In 2008, ground surveying always proved that PhotoSat surveying was wrong. By 2013 the PhotoSat surveying was being used to quality check and fix ground surveying.

This is great for projects with several different ground surveys. These are often surveyed by different contractors. For example, we have one case of an oil and gas project with five different ground GPS surveys performed by five different contractors. We proved that none of the ground surveys matched any of the other four ground surveys.

The key ground survey was for an oil well that discovered several hundred million barrels of oil. We matched the PhotoSat survey to the discovery well. All of the other four surveys mismatched the PhotoSat survey, each by different horizontal and vertical distances.

We used the PhotoSat survey to measure the offsets of each of the ground surveys from the oil well. Then we adjusted the other four surveys to match the oil well. This gave the project a consistent set of ground surveys all matched to the oil well.

This case history is described in more detail here.

Give GPS surveys on an oil and gas poject

Five GPS surveys on an oil and gas project. Each was done by a different survey contractor. None of the surveys matched each other. PhotoSat detected the mismatches and adjusted the survey data to produce a coherent survey data set.

 

Please see the experience section of the PhotoSat website for additional case histories and accuracy studies.

geologic formations in northern iraq

The accidental discovery of a new way to produce accurate elevation surveys from satellite photos

By Gerry Mitchell, P.Geo, President, PhotoSat

geologic formations in northern iraq

3D WorldView-2 image looking along dipping geologic formations in Northern Iraq. Produced by PhotoSat.

 

In an effort to find a faster way to produce elevation surveys from satellite photos, PhotoSat geophysicist Michael Ehling and I accidentally discovered a novel way to greatly improve the accuracy and resolution of satellite topographic survey results.

It was 2007, during the peak of the natural resource boom and PhotoSat could not keep up with the demand from Vancouver mining companies who needed accurate satellite survey data for their projects in remote parts of the globe. Without accurate ground surface surveys the mining engineers couldn’t produce reports of ore body volumes. Without the engineering reports the companies couldn’t report their mining discoveries to a booming stock market waiting expectantly for their news.

Interactive photogrammetric processes

Michael and I had been watching how photogrammeters produced elevation surveys from stereo satellite photos since 2004, when stereo IKONOS satellite photos first became available. PhotoSat was buying stereo IKONOS satellite photos from Space Imaging, now part of DigitalGlobe.

We were reformatting the photos so that the photogrammeters could produce elevation surveys using computer systems that had been designed for processing stereo photos taken from airplanes. They were using highly interactive processes and were taking an average of 150 hours to produce satellite surveys for 100 square kilometer projects.

Automatic matching

Michael and I could see that the processors spent most of their time interactively measuring the matches between identical features on pairs of satellite photos. The photos had been taken with the satellite looking at the same area on the ground from different directions. By identifying identical ground features on each of the photos, and precisely measuring their locations, the elevations of the features can be computed.

When Michael and I asked if the photo feature matching could be done automatically we were told that the automatic process usually didn’t work, but when it did, editing the results took more time than doing the matching interactively, so no one used it. As geophysicists we were intrigued by what looked like an interesting technical challenge.

Oil and gas seismic processing tool box

In the 1980’s and 90’s when I was working as a Geophysicist in oil and gas exploration I processed a lot of seismic data. Oil and gas seismic survey data is used to image geological formations thousands of meters below ground in the search for oil and gas. Seismic data processing has always been one of the most complex and computer intensive data processing fields, with expenditures of billions of dollars annually.

Over the past 50 years seismic processors have developed an immense array of data processing tools, including many automatic image matching tools, and I thought that we could probably apply these to the satellite photos.

Gerry and Michael at the siesmic workstation

Oil and Gas seismic processing and interpretation workstation. Gerry Mitchell on the left and Michael Ehling on the right. This technology was the inspiration for the PhotoSat satellite processing system.

Michael tested seismic processing image matching tools on stereo IKONOS satellite photos for several months in 2007. He had to format the digital satellite photos so that they would look like seismic data to the seismic processing systems, run tests, and then reformat the results to look like photos again.

We were in search of a faster way to produce the survey results that the photogrammeters were spending hundreds of hours to produce. We were testing with a pair of IKONOS satellite photos that had already been processed by the photogrammeters so that we could compare our results with theirs.

Gerry, Michael and Jayda at workstation

Michael, Jayda and Gerry using the PhotoSat Workstation on a satellite surveying project.

 

Initial PhotoSat processing test results were amazing

After three months of testing we had our first real success. We were astounded by the results. We could see many fine topographic details on our test data that were simply not visible at all in the photogrammetric processing.

We continued to refine the process over the next few months until we had produced satellite survey results that were over three times as accurate as the photogrammetric processing and had much more topographic detail. The initial process took over 100 hours of computer processing time to process 100 square kilometers, so we had not really found a faster way to produce the results, but completely unexpectedly, we had found a way to produce better results.

comparision of photosat survey

Satellite survey of a river valley processed by conventional photogrammetric methods on the left and by PhotoSat processing on the right. The PhotoSat surveying shows fine topographic detail on the river flood plain that has no expression on the conventional processing.

New PhotoSat Workstation built from scratch

Now, nine years after our initial accidental discovery we still have a team of researchers and software engineers improving our satellite processing system.

Several years ago they replaced the seismic processing system with a computer system built from scratch to efficiently apply the seismic algorithms and processes to satellite photos. This system, the PhotoSat Workstation, was designed to harness the processing power and speed of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). The GPUs process numerical data a thousand times faster than CPUs. Older software that is retrofitted to use GPUs typically shows speed improvements of two to five times.

It took several years and several million dollars of software development, but since our initial discovery in 2007 we have successfully created an automatic process that produces satellite surveys much faster than the photogrammeters, with much higher accuracy and better topographic detail.

 

 

 

 

 

How can modern satellites photos possibly be accurate to 20 centimeters in 10 kilometers?

By Gerry Mitchell, P.Geo, President PhotoSat

ground control survey points in eritrea test area

3D WorldView-1 satellite view showing the ground survey points in PhotoSat’s Eritrea test area.

 

My intuition rebels at the notion that a satellite orbiting 750 kilometers above the earth, traveling at 7 kilometers per second, could possibly take photos of the ground accurate to 20 centimeters in 10 kilometers. When you take into consideration that these satellites have scanning cameras which take their photos like push brooms, with the north end of the photo taken a few milliseconds before or after the south end, and that the whole satellite is vibrating while the photos are taken, it boggles the mind. It just does not seem that such high accuracy should be possible. However, the satellite photos themselves, checked with tens of thousands of ground survey points, clearly demonstrate that the accuracy is real.

How do the satellites and cameras work?

We engineers and geoscientists in the commercial realm don’t actually know how these satellites and cameras work. Almost all of the technical details of the imaging satellites, their cameras, and their ground processing stations is classified. Or if it’s not classified it’s certainly very difficult to discover. I’ve had many conversations with satellite engineers who seem like they’d love to tell me why their satellites perform so amazingly well. Sadly, they simply aren’t allowed to discuss classified technology with anyone without the proper security clearances.

Whenever I have one of these conversations, it always seems to me that part of what the engineer knows is public and part is classified, but the engineer cannot be sure that he or she can remember what is still classified and what isn’t so it’s safest to say nothing. I’ve had satellite engineers decline to confirm information that is published on their own company’s website. Needless to say, this can make for some very awkward conversations.

We engineers and geoscientists in the commercial world only have access to the satellite photos themselves, and very general public information about the satellites and their cameras.

How accurate are the satellite photos?

When the Digital Globe WorldView-1 (WV1) satellite photos first became commercially available in 2008, PhotoSat acquired stereo photos for a test area in Eritrea where we have over 45,000 precisely surveyed ground points. When we shifted the WV1 photos 3m horizontally to match any survey point, we were amazed to discover that all of the survey points within 10km matched the satellite photos to within 20cm. We eventually documented this discovery in an accuracy study white paper that is now published on our website.

Now, eight years after that initial WorldView-1 accuracy study of the Eritrea test area, we have processed hundreds of satellite photos from the WorldView, Pleiades, SPOT and KOMPSAT satellites and have come to expect this incredible accuracy. I’m still in awe that this is possible and I still don’t know how it is achieved. I do know that the photos are amazingly accurate.

black and white photo of over 15000 ground survey points in PhotoSat Test Area

WorldView-1 satellite photo over the PhotoSat test area in Eritrea. The over 15,000 ground survey points used to confirm that the satellite photo accuracy is better than 20cm in 10km are shown as black dots. The completely black areas are survey points every 20m along lines separated by 100m.

 

 Colour image of a one meter PhotoSat survey grid produced from the WorldView-1 satellite photos

Colour image of a 1m PhotoSat survey grid produced from the WorldView-1 satellite photos. The ground survey points demonstrate that the PhotoSat grid is accurate to 35cm in elevation.

 

 

Measure Twice, Cut Once: The Importance of Satellite Surveying in Mine Site Planning and Construction

Oil sands elevation map with 50cm contours

Tailings elevation map with 50cm contours

Keeping a mine safe, profitable and compliant with legislation means frequent, accurate surveying. Planning begins with exploration and identification of likely sites, and particularly in oil and gas projects this can result in delays and false starts. Traditional methods of identifying potential sites suffer from major shortfalls, including the challenges of surveying large areas with traditional methods. The gap between geologists’ opinions and test drilling with a high likelihood of success has never been adequately filled, resulting in continuing requirements for multiple overlapping exploration techniques including exploratory drilling and ground-based surveying.

Mine site planning and construction has surveying needs that no other project matches. Like any engineering project mine site construction requires accurate surveying, but few other large engineering projects are built in hostile, difficult to reach terrain. And few others change so much or so fast. The fundamental fact about a mine is that it is dynamic – it alters the landscape and has to change itself too. That’s true of deep underground mining, open cast, leach mining and every other kind of mine operation.

Surveying Challenges

This presents surveying challenges. Mine sites are typically more remote than other engineering sites: the typical engineering project expands or connects to some built environment, while mines are usually in isolated places far from cities and infrastructure, meaning that they often require their own infrastructure. They’re often in rugged terrain too, or in climatic conditions that make surveying more difficult, such as the mountains of Argentina, the Australian outback, or the Arctic.

All of this means that mine surveying often can’t be done well with traditional tools. Even using modern on-the-ground tools like LiDAR and GPS, survey teams still need to travel to inhospitable terrain and map the site in weather that can range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

Then there’s the issue of changes to the mine site. While many of these occur underground in tunnel mines, even these produce significant amounts of waste rock. And larger open pit mines produce both overburden and (usually) tailings which must be monitored. Neither GPS nor LiDAR is usually fast enough to provide mine operators with monthly updates that allow monitoring and ongoing tailings planning and control. This is going to become a bigger issue over the next couple of years, post-Brazil.

So what about drones? Drone technology is in its infancy, so it’s likely to improve. Camera-carrying, real-time streaming drones are available to consumers for almost pocket-money prices; professional models can fly for hours and provide images of remote areas without risking human operators. Surely they can offer a solution?

Drones can do that. But they’re dependent on weather: just as much as larger aircraft, they can’t fly in high winds or see through clouds. They also require an on-site operator. Drones can do things a survey team can’t, like overflying tailings ponds, and they’re increasingly being offered as a solution to a mining industry that has more need for accurate, timely surveying than ever before – and less spare cash than before to spend on it. But they can’t provide the consistency and climate resistance that some mines require.

So far we’ve talked about surveying itself: gathering data. But the majority of data gathered, whether by ground or airborne LiDAR, GPS, drone overfly, or any other method, is just that: data, not information. Translating it into 3D models that resemble what’s happening on the ground and tells observers something they didn’t already know is a time-consuming, computer power-eating process. The acquisition and processing speeds, taken together, simply don’t match up to the pace of decision making that modern mining requires.

Satellite Surveying to the Rescue

All, that is, apart from satellite mapping. Satellites are unaffected by remoteness and inhospitable terrain. They’re definitely out of danger; whole mine sites can be imaged from space in one shot, including those areas where it would simply be impossible to send a survey team. And the accuracy of PhotoSat’s satellite elevation data is unparallelled: we deliver 30cm accuracy for mine site mapping, for instance.

More telling yet is the availability of the information. In contrast to processing times measured in weeks, PhotoSat uses a proprietary technology based on seismic survey data processing tools to drastically cut the time between data acquisition and final deliverables. For example, we map one of Suncor’s mine sites biweekly and deliver within just five days in order to meet their planning meeting deadlines.

PhotoSat’s proprietary image processing tech can be adapted to specific client needs too. For instance, our contract with Suncor involves using a mixture of high and low resolution elevation grids, depending on where the imagery is used and taken. We use high resolution data to map Suncor’s mature fine tailings pond, overburden dump, and mine pit advance to an accuracy of 15cm elevation or more. One result of this approach is that the same images can be used by multiple departments – PhotoSat derived images are passed along to Suncor’s Tailings Engineers, Geotechs and Production Planning departments.

Well sites in Alberta

Well sites in Alberta

During an unrelated project for producing SAGD well sites in Alberta, PhotoSat was able to identify 70 well sites, resulting in a total project cost of $12,000 – just $170 per well – during a project that lasted from initiation on January 30, 2015 through image acquisition on February 4th to processing completion on February 6, 2015. The accuracy of the well head locations we provided were within 11cm RMSE, as compared to Government of Alberta certified RTK surveying. We were able to provide 50cm contours and a 1m elevation grid over potential well pad areas without needing exploratory drilling, and without a single boot on the ground or drone in the air.

To learn more about PhotoSat’s revolutionary satellite topography system and what it can do for your business, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 604-681-9770.

Reconciling Inconsistent Survey Datasets

We often hear from our clients that one of their biggest challenges with existing survey data is the lack of consistency between datasets. On oil and gas projects there is often hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in survey data that the engineers have little confidence in. The Drilling, Completions, and Facilities Engineers often find mismatches and different accuracies amongst location datasets.

The type of survey data in question comes in many forms – from GPS, theodolite surveys, as-built location drawings, and other surface location data. With so many data sources, it’s not surprising that there are inconsistencies and therefore frustrations for the project engineers.

What all people working on the project need is one reliable dataset as a base. We have worked with oil and gas companies to develop a system for matching surface engineering datasets to our high accuracy elevation surveys and precision satellite photos.

PhotoSat then provides a reliable and coherent package of surface location data including a 1m elevation grid (DEM), accurate to within 20cm vertically. This engineering quality satellite survey data can then be used by the engineers for all future project work.

Mismatched survey datasets

 

Other benefits of having high accuracy satellite survey data:

  • Reduce ground crews needed for surface scouting and site surveying, which reduces costs.
  • Streamline well pad selection and engineering projects for facilities.
  • Accurate cut and fill volume estimates.
  • Use the data for other applications like pipeline and access road route planning, and seismic survey planning.

 

How does reconciling survey data work?

First we produce our 20cm accuracy elevation mapping package from high resolution stereo satellite photos.

The data package includes:

  • 1m bare earth elevation grid accurate to 20cm
  • 1m (or 50cm) contours
  • 50cm precision satellite photo

Then we figure out the relative match between the mismatched engineering datasets that you provide, and our detailed satellite survey. When we determine the data inconsistencies, we work with your team to choose a reference dataset and shift the other datasets horizontally and vertically to match to it. Our system typically results in the final datasets all matching to within 10cm vertically and 25cm horizontally.

In the end we provide you with your original survey engineering data, but now adjusted and verified and therefore reliable. You also receive our elevation mapping package as described above, and usually within about 8 days of the satellite photo collection. Clients then have a coherent suite of surface location data that can be used for future engineering tasks on the project. Our clients tell us having this trust in the data is very valuable, making decisions easier and shortening project timelines.

We completed a case study on reconciling surface data that you can view here for a detailed example.

If you’d like more information on this product or our other mapping services, feel free to contact us at info@photosat.ca or 604-681-9770.

Suncor mature fine tailings

Canadian Mining Association Adopts New Tailings Recommendations

The Canadian Mining Association has agreed to implement a new set of guidelines aimed at improving tailings storage practices. In the wake of the Mount Polley incident, Canada’s principal mining industry group has agreed to adopt a raft of new waste management policies.

Tailings have been in the news recently following several major spillages, and the industry is responding by tightening up codes of practice to ensure better waste management becomes the norm.

Following Mount Polley, when mining waste was accidentally released into Canadian lakes and rivers, an independent review was commissioned by the B.C. government. The Chief Inspector of Mines weighed in, finding that geological features under the dam including a layer of clay weren’t taken into account at the design stage. The CIM found that while mining operations there didn’t break any laws or regulations, they didn’t meet best practices either. In response, the Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennet announced in 2014, the government planned new regulations that would make British Columbia a world leader in tailings storage.

The government-commissioned review, completed in January last year, recommended that all mining companies operating in the region should abide by the MAC’s code of best practice: in response the MAC organized its own independent review, seeking to improve that code.

The raft of 29 recommendations will extend tailings policy in both directions – up and in, to the heart of mining companies with tailings ponds or storage, and out to the communities nearby. MAC chief executive officer Pierre Gratton said in December, ‘Everyone of these recommendations, if it’s going to reduce the incidents, we want to implement as quickly as possible.’

Communities who may be affected by tailings incidents are to be involved in accident response planning and training, reflecting increased recognition within the industry of local communities as stakeholders in the industry. Meanwhile responsibility for signing off on tailings measures will be taken into the C-suite, effectively making the core of the company responsible for tailings.

Other measures recommended by the government review include the phased introduction of Best available Technologies, an increased role for tailings review boards and expanded corporate design commitments.

Satellite Surveying for Improved Tailings Monitoring

PhotoSat has extensive experience mapping tailings areas to help improve monitoring and management. We have been providing 20cm accuracy satellite surveying for Suncor’s Millennium Mine about twice a month since 2013, after they compared our mapping to alternative methods. The engineers at Suncor use our elevation data (DEM) for most of the mapping and surveying of their Tailings Reduction Operation. They also use it to help reduce their Mature Fine Tailings inventory.

Suncor mature fine tailings

Satellite ortho photo and PhotoSat elevation image of Suncor’s mature fine tailings.

 

In addition, Golder Associates uses our elevation models for satellite monitoring of the Penasquito Tailings Storage Facility. They presented their results at the Tailings & Mine Waste Conference in Vancouver in October 2015.

To find out more about using our high accuracy elevation models for tailings operations, contact us at info@photosat.ca, or 604-681-9770.

 

Tailings dyke elevation image number 2.

Monitoring Tailings Dykes with Satellite Elevation Data

In both the oil sands and mining industries, the integrity of tailings dykes is extremely important. Recent tailings incidents demonstrate this. Mapping the tailings dykes and beaches can be challenging with hazardous conditions restricting access for ground surveyors. Using satellite-based elevation mapping allows for data to be collected remotely, with no risk for ground personnel and no permits needed. Regular topographic mapping during construction allows the design engineers to confirm that the dykes are being built to design specifications.

Currently PhotoSat regularly surveys the topography of tailings dykes for the Alberta oil sands mines to an accuracy of 15cm in elevation. In fact, we map the entire tailings systems for Suncor’s Millennium and Steepbank mines about every two weeks. These surveys are used by a wide range of engineers and planners at Suncor. They even did a presentation about their experience comparing different survey options and why they settled on PhotoSat’s technology as their main topographic survey method.

Tailings dyke elevation image

Elevation image of a tailings dyke, December. Red is high, blue is low.

Tailings dyke elevation image number 2.

Elevation image of the same tailings dyke 6 months later. Red is high, blue is low.

Unique Methods for Elevation Mapping

Satellites can collect imagery anywhere in the world, and with new high resolution satellites being launched regularly, there are more options and collection times keep getting faster. Also, PhotoSat has a unique, automatic system for processing stereo satellite imagery to extract the bare-earth elevation values. That’s right – we invented this process ourselves here in Vancouver, and continuously improve the system to get better and better accuracy results. Additional information about the technology we use can be found on the Technology page. And we test our system regularly by publishing accuracy studies that are available on our website here.

We also survey all parts of tailings projects beyond the dykes for a complete profile of a mine site tailings area, including the sand dumps, tailings beaches, and mature fine tailings. The advantage of satellites is that they can collect imagery over a large area in one shot, providing an instantaneous snapshot of the entire tailings beach waterline, the geometry of the beaches, and the height of the tailings dykes. Areas from 100-200 sq km can be collected in one satellite pass.

Our standard elevation accuracy specs for mining projects is better than 30cm, and you can find out more about our digital elevation data package here. If even higher accuracy is required, contact us as we often can provide higher accuracies depending on the project.

To find out more about our engineering grade satellite topography, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

Accuracy target

ASPRS Releases New Accuracy Standards for Geospatial Data

The ASPRS has released new accuracy standards for geospatial data, taking into account the techniques and accuracies of modern mapping tools.

In a press release, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) observed that the previous standard was unchanged since 1947 when totally different surveying techniques were in use.

Accuracy target ‘The new ASPRS standards,’ the organization said, ‘address recent innovations  in digital imaging and non-imaging sensors, airborne GPS, inertial measurement units (IMU) and aerial triangulation (AT) technologies.’

An attempt had previously been made to update standards with the 1990 ASPRS standards, but while they were an improvement, ‘they did not do well in representing the capabilities of LiDAR, orthoimagery, digital mapping cameras or other current technologies in widespread use today.’

The new ASPRS standard is designed to be technology-, scale- and contour interval-agnostic and ‘address higher levels of accuracies achievable by the latest technologies (such as unmanned aerial systems and LiDAR mobile mapping systems)…Finally, the new standards provide cross references to older standards, as well as detailed guidance for a wide range of potential applications.’

At PhotoSat we’re happy to adopt these new standards but where exactly do we fit in? We’re not photogrammetrists, nor LiDAR processors. In fact, we have invented a new technology for processing stereo satellite photos! Regardless, we provide satellite elevation mapping with vertical accuracies better than 30cm RMSE in areas of sparse vegetation. And we’ve published many proof of accuracy studies to prove it.

The PDF of the ASPRS standards is available here.

Contact us at info@photosat.ca or 604-681-9770 if you have any questions.

PhotoSat 1m elevation image of a tailings beach, with 15cm vertical accuracy

The Challenge of Mine Tailings Beaches and Elevation Mapping

Mine tailings beaches are notoriously difficult to monitor. They’re the hardest surveying task at a mine. Data needs to be up to date, but tailings ponds can be huge: Suncor’s tailings ponds cover over 30 square kilometers. Ground survey teams can’t get close enough for safety reasons, and aerial LiDAR data delivery can be frustratingly slow. Low-flying drones are challenged by cold weather, and cannot cover much distance in a day, so are not reliable when measurements are required for a larger area on the same day.

That’s the challenge Suncor faced at its Alberta oil sands mine. Surveying Suncor’s Tailings Reduction Operation (TRO) site meant getting accurate data quickly over a mine site covering over 270 square kilometers. And when Suncor tried using traditional GPS, they found that only about 20% of the site was safe for crews to access. The next step was to try 3D laser scanners, but these simply couldn’t produce enough data fast enough; multiple set-ups were required and yielded sparse data that required significant processing to be comprehensible and usable. This meant adding to an already too-long wait time, as well as additional expense.

Elevation mapping solutions

PhotoSat’s 15cm accuracy satellite topography (DEM) addresses the challenge. Because we use high accuracy satellites, the data is collected safely and easily, reducing the need for ground crews to expose themselves to hazards. And we can collect satellite photos anywhere in the world, making them ideal for remote or challenging terrain.

50cm satellite ortho photo

50cm resolution satellite ortho photo of a tailings beach

 

PhotoSat elevation image of a tailings beach

PhotoSat 1m elevation image of a tailings beach, with 15cm vertical accuracy

 

Once the satellite imagery has been acquired, we run it through our unique processing system, developed for the industry by us from seismic data processing tools, with engineers in mind.

We have proven the accuracy of our elevation mapping using tens of thousands of ground control points as comparison. Numerous proof of accuracy studies are available on our website.

We map the entire Suncor site every two weeks, providing usable elevation surveys only five days after data acquisition for use in Suncor’s bi-weekly engineering meetings. Our satellite mapping provides an instantaneous snapshot of the entire tailings beach waterline, the geometry of the beaches, and the height of the tailings dykes. We continue to map the Suncor Millennium and Steepbank mines every two weeks, including mapping the Mature Fine Tailings cells in thickness increments of 15cm.

The digital elevation models are also used for mapping windrows, monitoring tailings dykes, calculating volume changes, and verifying the locations of as-built infrastructure. When Suncor’s tailings engineers need to make a decision, they have the reliable, up-to-date data to base it on.

The original presentation made my Suncor at the 2014 Trimble conference that compares PhotoSat mapping to alternatives, can be viewed here.

To learn more or get a quote for topographic mapping for your resource project, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

50cm satellite ortho photo

Alberta to Ease Tailings Regulations

Alberta has announced that it is easing up on tailings regulations, as several mine operators in the region are asking for reduced regulatory pressure. It’s a move away from the regulations, known as Directive 74, that have governed Alberta oil sands for the last six years.

Directive 74 required mining companies to ‘reduce tailings and provide target dates for closure and reclamation of ponds,’ and to report to the industry watchdog on their progress. But the industry has failed to meet the requirements of the legislation – and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) watchdog stopped enforcing them in 2013, the last time a company was punished for not hitting its cleanup targets.

Parker Hogan, a spokesman for Kyle Fawcett, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister, said, ‘What we have heard is that despite the best efforts and significant investments, companies have had significant challenges to achieve the requirements that are in Directive 74.’

Since then, the ERCB has been replaced by a new regulatory body, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and Directive 74 has been replaced by the Tailings Management Framework (TMF), a new regulatory structure with different aims. (The new framework is accompanied by strict groundwater use rules.)

The key change has been to refocus efforts on growing industry sustainably rather than directly on reducing tailings ponds. The new regulations give industry more leeway in some areas, allowing them to slow the growth of tailings ponds rather than working to actually reduce them; but they also promise new restrictions in other areas.

Kyle Fawcett laid out in more detail the requirements of TMF:

  • limit the amount of tailings that can be accumulated,
  • push companies to invest in technology to reduce tailings
  • establish thresholds to identify when companies must act to prevent harm to the environment
  • require companies to post financial security to deal with potential remediation issues and
  • ensure tailings are treated and reclaimed throughout the life of the project and are ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end-of-mine-life of that project.

Hogan said, ‘this is a shift towards the management of tailings in a way that respects the needs to mobilize new technologies and harness innovation so we can manage this size and scale of environmental impacts to a point we can move away and into reclamation.’ Directive 74 may have been abandoned, but the long-term goals that informed it are still in place.

So what does that mean for mining in Alberta? Are things getting easier or tighter? Overall, the new regulations are mining-friendly. They’re designed to facilitate industry expansion without making unacceptable environmental sacrifices. And that means they’re more long-term, but also that there’s a missing piece of the puzzle: for TMF to come together, new technology that isn’t online yet will be needed. Kyle Fawcett points out: ‘Technology unlocked the oilsands. It will be key to finding the long-term, effective solutions to tailings ponds management.’

Some of that new technology, though, is in place. PhotoSat has extensive experience working with players in the oil sands sector: while oil sands companies seek to accelerate tailings reclamation, reduce the need to build more tailings ponds and reduce their inventories of mature fine tailings, they struggle to do it without accurate, up-to-date survey data. Scanning tailings areas with GPS or ground-based LiDAR comes with a host of problems, including team safety.

50cm satellite ortho photo

50cm resolution satellite ortho photo

 

1m PhotoSat elevation image

1m PhotoSat elevation image (accurate to better than 15cm in elevation)

 

1m contours

1m contours (accurate to better than 15cm in elevation)

 

By comparison, PhotoSat’s unique satellite surveying technology, facilitated by software that builds on seismic data processing tools, produces highly accurate elevation data faster, with better definition of steep slopes and without subjecting survey crews to risky environments. It’s a process that’s used to safely survey Suncor’s TRO (Tailings Reduction Operation) in Alberta. PhotoSat has mapped their tailings site twice monthly since 2013, as well as producing automated toes and crests. Many oil sands and other types of mines have adopted PhotoSat mapping to improve tailings monitoring and measurement.

To learn more about our topographic processing system, or to find out how it could facilitate your resource project, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

Seismic survey points

Improve Seismic Survey Planning with Highly Accurate Elevation Models

When planning a seismic survey, petroleum engineers need to know which seismic source points can be accessed safely by vibroseis trucks. Using high detail elevation models generated from satellite imagery, PhotoSat can help.

We use elevation surveying to prepare the groundwork for seismic surveying. Before holes are drilled or vibroseis trucks are on the move, planners know where the likely best spots are. And thanks to PhotoSat’s 30cm accuracy elevation models, they also know where trucks can’t go.

Overturning vibroseis trucks on steep or sudden inclines is a real risk. Planners need more than contour lines: they need high resolution, accurate topographical data to allow them to plan how to best use their vibroseis equipment while keeping their trucks and crews safe. Mapping the ground slope to within 30cm elevation accuracy enables mapping of no-go zones that are too steep for vibrator truck operations, lowering the risk of overturning the vibes on steep inclines. Our clients tell us that this improvement in seismic survey planning helps them reduce project costs and saves time.

Seismic survey points

 

Advance scouting is expensive, risky and time-consuming. And it comes under fire for its environmental impact. PhotoSat’s proprietary geophysical processing system allows us to create usable digital elevation models and precision satellite images within just a few days of a satellite acquisition, with 30cm elevation accuracy and with no boots – or tires – on the ground. The resultant data can then be used for subsequent project engineering and design.

Another advantage of having accurate survey data in the early project stages is the ability to use the elevation models for quality control of the seismic shot and receiver point survey data. In addition, the data is engineering-quality and can be used for all future design and construction work. This reduces survey wait times and allows managers to have increased faith in the reliability of the data.

So how do we get these kinds of accuracies? We have developed our own unique process, and more information can be found on the Technology page. Also, we have published numerous Proof of Accuracy Reports, that compare our elevation data to tens of thousands of independent survey points.

If you’d like to learn more about how PhotoSat built software developed for seismic data processing into a powerful, fast and accurate satellite surveying tool, or find out how that tool can help your project happen, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

Texas elevation data

High Accuracy Elevation Grids (DEM) Available for Texas Oil Regions: Permian Basin, Eagle Ford Shale

PhotoSat has produced off-the-shelf digital elevation models for parts of the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. For oil producing areas in Texas that are outside of the immediately available data shown below, we can quickly produce a DEM using existing satellite imagery so contact us (info@photosat.ca) with your project area and we will provide details.

The vertical accuracy of the 1m elevation grids is better than 1m, making the data suitable for engineering and precision GIS tasks. The terrain data is bare earth (DTM) with man-made features and vegetation removed, making it ideal for development and construction planning. These DEMs are used by our oil and gas clients for:

  • Reducing costs by lowering the need for ground surveyors and eliminating multiple surveyors.
  • Well site and well pad design
  • Pipeline route, powerline, and road planning
  • Seismic planning
  • Slope analysis
  • Environmental assessment and planning

Our Texas digital elevation models are offered at an affordable price for such high accuracy and high resolution. Contact us with your project area in Texas and we will provide you with a quote.

Below are images of the current coverage available. If your project area is outside of this coverage, don’t fret, we can quickly produce detailed topography over most other areas.

Texas elevation data

Overview of off-the-shelf elevation data in Texas

 

Permian Basin DEM

Zoom of the DEM in the Permian Basin

 

Eagle Ford Shale DEM

Zoom of the DEM in the Eagle Ford Shale Play

 

The elevation mapping package includes:

  • 1m bare earth elevation grid (DTM) accurate to better than 1m
  • 50cm greyscale precision satellite ortho photo
  • 1m contours

 

Eagle Ford elevation mapping

1m colour image of the DTM over the Eagle Ford Shale

 

1m contours

1m colour image of the DTM with 1m contours

 

Satellite photo

50cm resolution satellite ortho photo

 

If you’d like a quote for topographic mapping over your project area contact us and we’d be happy to help. info@photosat.ca, 604-681-9770.

Mexico onshore oil and gas blocks

High Accuracy Surveying and Satellite Photos for Mexico Round 1 Onshore Blocks

As you probably already know, Mexico’s oil and gas blocks are up for auction and the next round includes the onshore fields. For bidding companies, detailed satellite elevation mapping and high resolution ortho photos can significantly help understand and assess the surface topography.

View the brochure for Mexico blocks satellite data (PDF).

Mexico onshore oil and gas blocks

Mexico onshore oil and gas blocks for bidding

 

PhotoSat can provide 30cm vertical accuracy, 1m bare earth elevation grids (DEM) for all blocks. These DEMs are produced from archive satellite images.

The benefits of having high accuracy surveying include:

  • Assessing environmental conditions including drainage and flood risk assessment.
  • Engineering grade accuracy allows for accurate assessments of the location of existing infrastructure (well sites, roads, pipelines etc).
  • Knowledge of the ground conditions reduces risk.

If the available satellite images used to produce the topographic data are too old for your purposes, we can acquire new satellite images on request. Contact us at info@photosat.ca for information on the data available over the block in question, and for pricing.

We can accommodate custom coordinate systems and are able to use many types of surveys for ground reference points. We can also produce the mapping without ground control points if nothing is available. More information on our 30cm accuracy satellite elevation mapping can be found on our main website.

If detailed base mapping is not required yet, we can also provide high resolution satellite ortho photos only over the desired block.

The following table outlines the existing 50cm resolution satellite images that are immediately available for all blocks. Included are the size of the block and the most recent ortho photo date. If you need more current information, we can task a satellite to collect new images.

Campos Burgos:
Block Size (sqkm) Archive ortho image date
Anahuac 30 October 2014
Duna 37 March 2014
Mareografo 30 March 2014
Calibrador 16 March 2014
San Bernardo 29 November 2013
Benavides 136 November 2013
Pena Blanca 26 June 2015
Carretas 90 November 2013
Ricos 24 August 2013
Campos Norte:
Block Size (sqkm) Archive ortho image date
La Laja 10 July 2014
Ponton 12 August 2015
Paso de Oro 23 October 2014
Tecolutla 7 January 2014
Barcodon 11 March 2015
Campos Sur:
Block Size (sqkm) Archive ortho image date
Moloacan 47 June 2015
Calicanto 11 May 2015
Cuichapa Pte 42 June 2015
Mayacaste 22 April 2015
Tajon 28 April 2015
Paraiso 17 April 2015
Fortuna Nacional 22 June 2015
Mundo Nuevo 28 May 2015
Topen 26 May 2015
Catedral 58 May 2015
Malva 22 May 2015
Secadero 10 May 2015

 

Our standard delivery is an ortho photo centered on each block covering 100 sq km. Pricing is based on the square kilometer, and custom sizes and shapes are available on request.

View the brochure for Mexico blocks satellite data (PDF).

Feel free to contact us for a quote, or for any questions: info@photosat.ca, 604-681-9770.

 

Canadian oil industry

Canada’s Oil and Gas Provinces ‘Best In World’

Canada’s oil and gas provinces have been ranked among the best in the world for investment by the Fraser Institute’s global survey of petroleum executives. The survey ranks 156 jurisdictions as investment targets, based on the oil and gas reserves from each one and the input of oil and gas executives.

One of the major areas of concern for the survey is the attitude of each jurisdiction’s lawmakers toward oil and gas industries. This is expressed in terms of taxation rates, potentially costly regulatory obligations, uncertainty over environmental regulations and political stability, as well as secondary issues like concerns over the interpretation of regulations.

The survey ranked jurisdictions on policy alone, and found the best to be, in descending order: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Saskatchewan, Arkansas, Manitoba, Alabama, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota and Wyoming.

The worst? In ascending order: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iran, Russia (Eastern Siberia), Russia (Offshore Arctic), Iraq, Uzbekistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa), and Turkmenistan.

Canadian oil industry

 

Two Canadian provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, appear in the top ten on policy alone. But when reserves are factored in as well, Alberta tops the list in Canada, and comes in second worldwide. (Who pipped Alberta to the post? Texas.)

‘Alberta’s wealth of petroleum reserves continues to attract investment, which creates jobs for scores of Canadians,’ said the Fraser Institute’s Kenneth Green, senior director of the Institute’s Center for national Resources.1

The Fraser Institute divided jurisdictions into three classes, with large, medium and small reserves. To be included in the ‘large reserves’ list, a jurisdiction’s reserves had to total more than 1% of the total represented in the survey.

Among the small reserves group, Canada placed high too: Saskatchewan and Manitoba came in at 2 and 3, while British Columbia entered the medium reserves group at 19 out of 44.

On the other hand, Quebec presented the greatest barriers to oil and gas development in Canada, said the Fraser survey: ‘Quebec continues to sour petroleum investment by delaying authorization for development, to the detriment of many Quebecers who could be working in the resource industries,’ said Green.

The Fraser Institute used data from 710 respondents, representing 563 oil and gas companies.

Many Canadian oil and gas projects are using PhotoSat’s high accuracy digital terrain models to accelerate their engineering tasks. In particular, we have been applying this process for twice monthly surveying for the Alberta Oil Sands mines. This allows them to track volumetric changes in their pits, waste dumps, tailings areas and ore stockpiles. They are also finding the satellite mapping useful for a variety of other applications including verifying as-built locations of roads, power lines and other infrastructure.

The key to this has been high accuracy terrain mapping over large areas using high resolution satellites. For Suncor we provide better than 20cm accuracy and deliver the tailings and pit surveying within 5 days after each satellite pass. Suncor has given us permission to show the results of their pilot program where they compared the accuracy against airborne LiDAR, UAVs and ground surveying.

To learn about our revolutionary satellite elevation processing system, or to find out how it could facilitate your oil and gas project, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

 

1MarketWired, 2014

PhotoSat 3d elevation image

Comparison to LiDAR verifies accuracy of WorldView-3 satellite elevation mapping to within 15cm

Back in March this year, we were proud to announce that we’d verified the accuracy of DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 (WV3) satellite topography. The digital terrain model PhotoSat produced from DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 stereo satellite data was found to be accurate to within 15cm in elevation. Of course, that meant our customers could look forward to unprecedented accuracy from us, with an accuracy study to back it up. Here’s the original piece from PRNewswire:

 3d elevation image

PhotoSat 3d elevation image from WorldView-3 satellite data of the Garlock Fault in California

Engineers to benefit from high quality elevation products

VANCOUVER, March 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ – PhotoSat is pleased to announce that the elevation data processed from DigitalGlobe’s new 30 centimeter resolution satellite, WorldView-3, has been verified as accurate to within 15 centimeters. DigitalGlobe is a leading global provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery products and services, and is the first company to offer 30 cm resolution satellite imagery commercially.

For the study, PhotoSat produced a 50 cm grid of elevations using its proprietary geophysical processing technology with stereo satellite images taken by WorldView-3. The resulting elevations were then compared to a 50 cm LiDAR elevation grid in Southeast California, accurate to approximately 5 cm in elevation and available on the OpenTopography website. The size of the comparison area was 88 square kilometers. The resulting 15 cm RMSE elevation accuracy was impressively achieved using a single ground reference point. The full WorldView-3 accuracy study is available on the PhotoSat website at www.photosat.ca/pdf/garlock-30cm-wv3-elevation-accuracy-report-mar2015.pdf.

PhotoSat’s highly accurate elevation grids have been used for years by oil and gas and mining engineers as a cost-effective alternative to ground surveying and airborne LiDAR mapping. The satellite imagery from WorldView-3 will allow PhotoSat to deliver the highest quality topographic data yet.

“The DigitalGlobe WorldView-3 satellite data is the highest quality satellite photo data that PhotoSat has ever processed,” said Gerry Mitchell, President of PhotoSat. “In this test, an elevation grid extracted from stereo WorldView-3 satellite photos matches a highly accurate LiDAR elevation grid to better than 15 cm in elevation. This result takes satellite elevation mapping into the engineering design and construction markets and directly competes with LiDAR and high resolution air photo mapping for applications like flood plain monitoring.”

“The fact that PhotoSat has validated our elevation data to within 15 cm is amazing and even exceeds our initial expectations,” saidKenyon Waugh, DigitalGlobe’s senior director of vertical segment products. “With these elevation products, customers in the oil, gas, and mining sectors can leverage our truly global reach and realize cost savings on the order of 50 percent.”

LiDAR and satellite elevation data

LiDAR grid compared to PhotoSat’s WV3 grid. Comparison of the LiDAR and WV3 elevation grids for a 1000m wide area. Minor differences between the elevation grids are visible.

 

About PhotoSat

PhotoSat has invented a new technology that generates the world’s most accurate satellite topographic mapping.  This engineering quality data shortens timelines and eliminates surveying delays in all phases of resource and engineering projects. We have delivered over 500 highly accurate elevation mapping projects, and have published a number of accuracy studies which are available on our website. For more information please visit www.photosat.ca.

About DigitalGlobe

DigitalGlobe is a leading provider of commercial high-resolution earth observation and advanced geospatial solutions that help decision makers better understand our changing planet in order to save lives, resources and time. Sourced from the world’s leading constellation, our imagery solutions deliver unmatched coverage and capacity to meet our customers’ most demanding mission requirements. For more information, visit www.digitalglobe.com.

To find out more, either visit us at  www.photosat.ca, view the original accuracy report here or contact us at info@photosat.ca.

Surface topography image and pipeline routes

Surface topography and pipeline route selection

Oil and gas pipeline routes are absolutely pivotal information. The route that a line has to take is always a trade-off between what you’d ideally like to have and what you have to accept: an ideal oil pipeline would run in a trench across a totally flat surface with constant temperature and no seismic activity. In real life, we have mountains, deserts, heat and cold fluctuations, seismic activity of all sorts, permafrost or rocky outcrops that necessitate raising the line on supports, and other obstacles. (And that’s without mentioning regulatory environment…)

On the one hand, knowing the terrain you have to get across lets you know what kind of pipeline you can have. On the other, knowing the pipeline plans lets you know what kind of geotechnical data you’re going to need to bring it home safely and efficiently.

When you’re researching pipeline route corridor alternatives, you’re equally faced with compromises. You need reliable, accurate surface topography data for the whole potential route corridor. Solid geotechnical data allows correct pipeline route selection and implementation, but getting it by traditional means is costly, time-consuming and environmentally damaging and can run the risk of damaging your local reputation.

Surface topography image and pipeline routes

PhotoSat elevation image and pipeline route options

 

PhotoSat’s highly accurate, engineering-quality digital surface topography allows you to examine and select multiple pipeline corridors and plan final routes, based on elevation data accurate to 30cm vertically. You can do it without risking survey teams in inaccessible locations or hostile environments. Usable engineering survey data is generated fast, typically within five days. We’ll typically supply our oil and gas clients with an engineering quality 1m topographic grid accurate to 30cm in elevation, 50cm or 1m contours, and a 50cm satellite ortho photo. And after it’s been used to select pipeline routes, the surface topography can be used for all phases of the project, because it’s accurate and comprehensive enough for most engineering tasks.

The accuracy of our surface topography has been proven in many accuracy studies using tens of thousands of ground survey points for comparison. View our proof of accuracy reports for more information. We have completed over 500 projects all over the world.

To learn more about our revolutionary satellite image processing system, or to find out how it could facilitate your oil and gas project, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

satellite photo of a tailings beach.

Improving Safety for Mine Survey Teams: How Ground Surveying Fits Seamlessly With Satellite Topography

Mine survey teams perform a job that’s increasingly vital, increasingly technological – and more dangerous every day. When they’re doing preliminary work to acquire geophysical data for exploratory purposes, or scouting out pit placement, they’re subject to dangers including rockfalls and environmental dangers that can include severe weather and wild animals. Many mine sites are in inaccessible locations, in rugged terrain far from habitation, where it’s hard to put teams and even harder to get them out again fast when someone gets hurt.

At the same time, the industry is expanding into new regions where mining has previously been carried out with pick and shovel or even literally by hand. In sometimes socially-volatile places where old mine workings don’t show up on maps that are often themselves inaccurate, mine survey teams are saving the lives of miners by supplying engineers with accurate data – but they’re endangering their own safety to do it.

And what about when ground survey teams visit a working open mine to check for bench integrity? They’re sharing their working environment with heavy trucks and putting themselves in the way of slumping bench walls and falling debris.

PhotoSat’s 30cm accuracy satellite topography can provide a solution by filling in part of the puzzle. Mine survey teams will always be needed, but their exposure to risk should be minimized. When you get your elevation data from LiDAR or GPS, it can be significantly slower than PhotoSat’s unique geophysical processing technology. You’ll typically wait weeks, especially for aerial LiDAR. PhotoSat usually provides a client with engineering quality elevation mapping within 5 days, and there’s no boots on the ground so safety risks are minimized.

That doesn’t mean ground survey teams, LiDAR or other scanning technologies are redundant. Just look here to see how one of our clients, Suncor, combines multiple scanning technologies to get the data they need.  In 2014, Suncor and PhotoSat presented on the benefits of incorporating satellite surveying into their survey process for their Tailings Reduction Operation (TRO). With many areas of the TRO cells inaccessible to ground surveyors, the satellite-based technology reduced exposure to hazards.

But it does mean there’s a way to get a fast, engineering quality mine survey that can be used for multiple engineering and planning applications – without putting anyone in harm’s way.

To find out more about PhotoSat’s 30cm accuracy satellite topography for mine surveys, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 604-681-9770.

satellite photo of a tailings beach.

High resolution satellite photo of a tailings beach.

elevation image of a tailings beach

PhotoSat elevation image of a tailings beach

Reconciling Surface Engineering Data

One of the biggest complaints we hear from our oil and gas clients is about inconsistent survey data. On the one hand, they’re spending thousands of dollars on surface engineering data, and the cost is justified because of its business value. That data saves money down the line. Except it doesn’t. Because when drilling, completions and facilities engineers get the data, they often can’t trust it.

It’s data that comes from GPS and theodolite surveys, as-built drawings, and from other sources that aren’t always even identified. Any given data point could have come from any of these sources. Frequently the engineering data is not reliable enough.

What’s needed is a data set that comes from one, reliable source. Then existing data sets can be compared against that. Instead of several differing views, there’s one authoritative, reconciled picture of what’s happening on the ground.

PhotoSat offers our oil and gas clients coherent project location data with elevation accuracies better than 20cm. Completions, facilities and drilling engineers can work from a reliable data set now and in future project stages.

Survey data sets for engineering projects

The value of surface engineering data is directly proportional to accuracy. We help our clients maximize the value of their engineering data by providing reliable data across the project site. That data can be used to inform cut and fill volume estimates as well as to streamline facilities engineering projects and well pad selection.

Additionally, surveying via satellite means less boots on the ground. Fewer survey teams have to work in hazardous working environments and less expensive equipment is exposed to the risk of damage at the project site. Data is also available in a usable form far more quickly, typically within five days.

So how does it work?

We start with the data set our client already has. Then we compare it against our own topographic survey. When we find inconsistencies, we work with the client’s project team to select the appropriate reference data set for that inconsistency, and shift the others horizontally and vertically to match it. This process usually means we’re leaving our clients with datasets that match to within 10cm vertically and 25cm horizontally. Clients also get a matching 1m grid of our satellite engineering topography, accurate to 20cm in elevation, and a 50cm precision satellite ortho photo with 25cm horizontal accuracy. That provides a reliable basis for future data-dependent engineering projects like surface design work, including cut and fill volume estimates.

We’ve delivered over 500 projects like this to clients all over the globe, and our clients know that there’s no better, faster or more accurate way to base their engineering data on something reliable and accurate. If you’d like to read more about how our data reconciliation process works, take a look at this engineering data case study. To find out how we can help you with your project, contact us at  info@photosat.ca or call us at 1-604-681-9770.

Brucejack mine

Brucejack mine gets the green light

Pretium Resources Inc received its final permits for its Brucejack mine in northwestern British Columbia. The company expects the mine to produce $456m in today’s prices of gold yearly over its lifetime. Frik Els of Mining.com has more:

Brucejack mine

Pretium Resources Brucejack project in 2011

 

Shares in Pretium Resources Inc (TSE:PVG) enjoyed a nice bump on Friday after the company received final provincial and federal approval for its Brucejack mine in northwest British Columbia.

By the close of day the Vancouver-based company was trading at $6.53, up 4.5% on the Toronto Stock Exchange, down from a 7.5% advance shortly after the opening of trading.

A higher than usual 346,000 shares in the $865 million company changed hands on that day.

With all necessary federal approvals, a provincial environmental assessment certificate and Mines Act permit now in place, construction of the new Brucejack mine is expected to get underway in 2015, the BC mines ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Pretium pegs capital expenditure for the Brucejack underground operation located about 65 km northwest of Stewart at just less than $750 million with targeted commercial production in 2017. The company received an $81 million investment from China’s Zijin Mining in December for a stake just shy of 10%.

The gold and silver mine in the Valley of the Kings near the Alaskan border will create approximately 900 jobs during the two-year construction period and 500 jobs during an estimated 18-year operating life.

A feasibility study completed in June 2014 outlined proven and probable mineral reserves of 6.9 million ounces of gold (13.6 million tonnes grading 15.7 grams per tonne gold).

Average annual production of 504,000 ounces of gold over the first 8 years and 404,000 ounces of gold over the life of mine is expected with 2,700 tonnes milled every day.

Brucejack is the first mine greenlighted in BC since the failure of Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley tailings dam last summer.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines said Brucejack’s tailings will be stored underground in spent mine workings, and in the nearby lake, which contains no fish.

Brucejack is partly financed by Chinese investment and will be producing in just two years, if all goes to plan. Its greenlighting could be a good sign for mining in Canada as well as a boon for owners Pretium.

 

Toes and crests, satellite image

Automatic toes & crests mapping at Suncor’s oil sands mine

In this article we’ll look at how the engineers at Suncor have adopted our toes and crests mapping as an integral part of their mine planning process. This is the last post in a 3 part Suncor case study series. In the first post, we discussed Suncor’s comparison of various survey methods, and in the second article we showed how they use satellite elevation mapping for monitoring mature fine tailings.

Mapping of toes and crests is important for monitoring open-pit mining. On the ground, vehicular access, overburden removal and bench integrity needs to be ascertained if the mine is to continue to be profitable and safe. But on the ground is the worst place for surveyors to be: survey teams that examine mine sites directly are exposed to hazards like falling debris and bench wall slumping as well as heavy vehicle traffic. Which is where PhotoSat comes in.

In collaboration with Suncor, PhotoSat has developed a process to automatically map toes and crests to an accuracy of 15cm without survey teams requiring access to hazardous areas of the mine site. Production isn’t interrupted, surveyors are working on tasks that actually require boots on the ground, and accurate mapping of toes and crests allows the engineers to monitor bench integrity and check mine progression against projections.

Toes and crests over a satellite photo

Toes and crests data draped over a satellite photo

 

Toes and crests over PhotoSat’s elevation image

Toes and crests data draped over PhotoSat’s elevation image

 

Bird’s eye view of toes and crests over a mine site

Bird’s eye view of toes and crests data over a mine site

 

Mine planning often takes place on a biweekly or monthly basis, reflecting production speed. We’re able to supply our oil sands clients with useable data within 5 days, meaning analysis of progress and erosion is more granular and data is available in a timely manner.

There are several mine surveying options on the market, many of which Suncor has tried (see our first post for Suncor’s comparison of various surveying methods). Typically these rely on LiDAR, which uses reflected laser light to build images. Terrestrial laser scanning involves survey teams setting up and using multiple scanning stations and consequently requires more time to produce images. And survey teams are still on the ground! Aerial LiDAR avoids this issue but results in huge point clouds that have to be processed before an image is usable, which can take a very long time. GPS survey equipment can also be used, but data paucity and safety remain serious issues.

Using satellites, Photosat offers instantaneous snapshots of all mine site toes and crests derived from our elevation grids. Our proprietary geophysical processing system results in far greater accuracy than conventional satellite mapping processes such as photogrammetry.

Oil sands mines change fast and digital vector data for toes and crests are vital to the engineers for keeping track of what is usually softer rock. Suncor switched over to using PhotoSat’s satellite topography as their main survey method in 2013. While some areas of the mine still use GPS surveying, toe and crest mapping has been carried out exclusively by PhotoSat.

Our elevation mapping is also used for other applications at oil sands and hard rock mines, such as:

  • Sloughing in nonactive areas
  • Pipelines and roads
  • Power poles
  • Buildings and structures
  • In-pit geotech surveying
  • Correcting LiDAR issues

For more information on satellite elevation mapping and toes and crests, feel free to contact us at info@photosat.ca or 604-681-9770.