Mining companies make up about 21% of the enterprises which use Earth Observation (EO) satellite data. The mining industry relies heavily on satellite images and high-resolution satellite maps to support geological activities. The data they gather is used to analyze and better understand geological formations. Geologists and exploration managers are continually benefitting from satellite imagery. They are not only using the data in areas of mining support. They have also used them to monitor the dynamics and development of mines, as well as for evaluating potential new prospects.

The use of satellite data brings the mining industry one step further in addressing the issues surrounding pollution. Obviously with enviromentalists sharing information online, it’s importatant to be pro-active, and several mining companies have also shared their valuable data to related industries and governments.

How are Satellites Used in Mining Operations?

It was once very demanding for geological professionals to operate in unfamiliar territories. Long before the advent of satellites, they often lacked detailed maps and the necessary geological information for various regions. Gaining the confidence to explore unknown locations which seemed suitable for mining operations was extremely challenging. Hydrocarbons, mineral deposits, and related geological structures are difficult for ground based-surveys to locate.

This all changed when the use of data from EO satellites suddenly enabled large-scale surveying of such regions. The constant provision of satellite imagery has made it possible for miners to map out their access to potential exploration areas. Satellites can map and identify these large-scale geological structures. Landsat, RapidEye, SPOT, and WorldView are among the satellite systems which provide priceless imagery for geological studies.

Satellite Techniques and Instruments

Satellites can provide geological data valuable to miners in many ways. Some of the most important ones include:

  • Satellite radar interferometry: Hydrocarbon reservoirs can cause certain ground motions which can be quickly identified with this technique. It can also spot surface defects in a short time.
  • Multi-spectral optical sensors: This technique has proven very useful in spotting many different minerals.
  • Multi-spectral imaging and thematic mapping allows researchers to collect absorption and reflection data.
  • Multiple band sensor combination: The differences in structural features of the earth’s surface are clearly identifiable with near-infrared, short wave infrared, and thermal infrared. These multiple bands are useful to interpret wavelengths, which cannot be seen by the human eyes.

Monitoring the Effects of Mining on the Environment

The mining industry is not without its environmental impacts and hazards to people and infrastructure. Satellite imagery has also proven very useful in monitoring and identify these consequences of mining. Some typical issues include:

  • Large coal mining projects leave traces of land deformation which can only be understood with the help of satellite imagery.
  • Post-mining rehabilitation and backfilling can be equally hazardous and harm the environment.

Many mining companies look at satellite data to find a way to support the rehabilitation of abandoned mines. Several mining companies have developed surface deformation monitoring systems. With this same technique, the vegetation growth cycle around mine sites is also now easily followed. Satellite imagery is getting better with the most recent EO satellites and sensors. However, some satellites, such as the optical ones still do poorly in areas covered with forests. Seeing the ground surface clearly is necessary to capture useful data for the mining industry. Areas with sparse vegetation provide a better image for the mining industry.