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Remote sensing to monitor mining pollution

Remote sensing methods that could be used in future to monitor pollution from mining at less cost and to common standards across the EU were tested in six diverse sites across Europe by IST project MINEO (Monitoring and assessing the environmental Impact of mining in Europe using advanced Earth Observation Techniques).

Faced with increasing environmental pressure and regulatory controls due to surface and groundwater pollution, soil contamination, and terrain instability, the mining industry and decision makers needed innovative and cost-effective tools for environmental data acquisition and processing that provide a sound basis for sustainable economic development of the sector.

MINEO’s answer was to develop the components of a future decision-making tool for use in environmental planning, and to disseminate knowledge and generate awareness of the role that can be played by earth observation data in this process. These decision-making tools and methods to exploit the data could potentially be used in future sustainable information systems that locate and monitor environmental risks.

Regularly updated information stored in databases related to mining environments is used to draw up Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Environmental Management Plans (EMPs). To collect this information innovative earth observation techniques developed by the 11-member MINEO consortium can be used. Hyperspectral imaging sensors that identify and map materials through spectroscopic remote sensing produce data that can characterise the chemical and/or mineralogical composition of the ground surface.

The primary advantages of this future space-borne imaging technique are the reduction in conventional, time consuming and expensive field sampling methods and its capability to gather repeat data, which assists in monitoring mining pollution.

Such earth observation data, when integrated into GIS and combined with other data relevant to environmental concerns, is valuable in producing EIAs and EMPs of mining at local and regional scale. It can also be used in the production of pollution risk maps around mining areas.

A major project output was the development of a specific spectral database application, the MINEO Spectral Library.

Six mining areas were chosen as test sites – Portugal, the UK, Germany, Austria, Finland and Greenland – reflecting Europe’s climatic, geographic and socio-economic environmental diversity.