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Advanced analysis of satellite data reveals ground deformation precursors to the Brumadinho Tailings Dam collapse

Grebby, S. and Sowter, A. and Gluyas, J. and Toll, D. and Gee, D. and Athab, A. and Girindran, R. (2021) 'Advanced analysis of satellite data reveals ground deformation precursors to the Brumadinho Tailings Dam collapse.', Communications Earth & Environment, 2 . p. 2.


Catastrophic failure of a tailings dam at an iron ore mine complex in Brumadinho, Brazil, on 25th January 2019 released 11.7 million m3 of tailings downstream. Although reportedly monitored using an array of geotechnical techniques, the collapse occurred without any apparent warning. It claimed more than 200 lives and caused considerable environmental damage. Here we present the Intermittent Small Baseline Subset (ISBAS) technique on satellite-based interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data to assess the course of events. We find that parts of the dam wall and tailings were experiencing deformation not consistent with consolidation settlement preceding the collapse. Furthermore, we show that the timing of the dam collapse would have been foreseeable based on this observed precursory deformation. We conclude that satellite-based monitoring techniques may help mitigate similar catastrophes in the future.

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Date accepted:23 October 2020
Date deposited:07 January 2021
Date of first online publication:04 January 2021
Date first made open access:07 January 2021

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