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.