DAMSAT overview

Dam monitoring from satellites (DAMSAT) is a system which uses satellite technology to remotely monitor water and tailings dams and other tailings storage facilities. The system helps to reduce the risk of failure of these structures and the consequent risk to population and damage to ecosystems downstream upon which many vulnerable communities rely for both their source of water and livelihoods.

DAMSAT uses a combination of Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technologies combined with real-time in-situ devices to monitor infrastructure displacements. It also uses optical satellite data to monitor pollution indicators. DAMSAT integrates weather forecasts, estimates runoff and changes in water levels in reservoirs and ponds behind the dams and estimates risks downstream if there is a failure.

In order to support asset managers to take preventative actions DAMSAT generates warnings when abnormal behaviour or weather conditions occur. The system is implemented in two areas of the mining regions of Cajamarca and Pasco in Peru, monitoring several operational and non-operational water and tailings dams and tailings storage facilities.

Download the project summary here.

What is the challenge?

Water storage dams serve multiple functions for a society such as drinking water supply, flood protection and hydroelectricity generation. Tailings dams are embankments of compacted earth used to store toxic mining waste.  The likelihood of failure of tailings dams is higher than that of water storage dams, although in both, the consequences of failure are catastrophic for communities and ecosystems downstream.  Consequences can include loss of numerous lives, destruction of infrastructure and pollution of the environment, drinking water sources and the food chain.

The main challenge of this project was to develop an effective method to monitor water and tailings dams and other tailings deposit areas, especially those in remote areas, that can help predict potential catastrophic failures.  These dams and other tailings deposit areas may be operational, closed or abandoned.

The project focused its work in the mining regions of Cajamarca and Pasco, with an additional site in Junín,  in Peru.  A study of 743 dams in Peru (85% of which were water dams and 15% were mining dams) carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, concluded that many dams in the country are not safe and pose a risk to the population living downstream. The same report recommended the implementation or improvement of monitoring and control systems to the dams to manage the risk through means of early detection and identification of problems that could cause a breach.

Our objective

Our objective is to provide DAMSAT, a proof of concept of a more cost effective way of remotely monitoring tailings dams and other tailings deposit areas utilising Earth Observation (EO) and Global Navigation Satellite System technologies (GNSS) combined with real-time in-situ devices and associated analysis and forecasting tools.

We aim to

  • support the reduction of the environmental and social impacts of water and tailings dams and storage facilities failures in Peru
  • influence the adoption of Earth Observation monitoring tools by engaging with key stakeholders
  • demonstrate the advantages of using satellite data to monitor several assets and, on occasions, several sites with the same system for planning, operations and general maintenance. 

The project contributes towards two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

SDG 1.5.1: Number of deaths, missing persons and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population

DAMSAT reduces the exposure and vulnerability of communities to extreme events like a dam failure.

UN SDG Clean water and sanitation

SDG 6.3.2: Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality

DAMSAT improves water quality by reducing the probability of pollution and release of hazardous chemicals and materials.

Who works on it?

The project involves working with Government Agencies and local stakeholders in Peru as well as multi-national mining companies, that help to develop and test the approach on a number of sites, either operational, closed or abandoned.

The project consortium is made up of UK partners: HR Wallingford leading the project, Telespazio VEGA, Siemens Corporate Technology, Satellite Applications Catapult, Oxford Policy Management, and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford; and Peruvian partners: Ciemam, the National Foundation for Hydraulic Engineering, and the National University of Cajamarca (School of Hydraulic Engineering and Faculty of Engineering).

For how long?

The project started in March 2018 and will end in March 2021.

Funders

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The project is awarded by the International Partnership Programme (IPP), a 5 year programme run by the UK Space Agency seeking to use space solutions to make a positive and practical impact on the lives of those living in emerging and developing economies. IPP is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, a fund from the UK Government which supports cutting-edge research and innovation strengths to deliver sustainable economic or societal benefits to emerging and developing countries around the world. The projects under IPP are also match funded by the partners.

Full description of the project

For a full description of the project, visit our project description page.