Engels, J, Dixon-Hardy, D & Birch, B 2006, 'A Realistic Technique to Obtain the Surface Contours of Conventional, Thickened and Paste Tailings Storage Facilities', in R Jewell, S Lawson & P Newman (eds), Paste 2006: Proceedings of the Ninth International Seminar on Paste and Thickened Tailings
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 221-234, https://doi.org/10.36487/ACG_repo/663_19
Understanding the surface fluctuations of a dry stack, paste, thickened and conventional tailings storage
facility can help manage the day to day tailings disposal operations. This in turn helps to increase the safety
of the facility and reduce the hazards associated with a failure. The majority of conventional tailings failures
arise from poor water management, most notably loss of freeboard. Controlling the geometry of the
supernatant pond and the freeboard of a conventional tailings facility are perhaps the fundamental parameters
influencing embankment stability. Although dry stack, paste and thickened tailings facilities don’t have to
control supernatant water as stringently, there is a need to control the geometrical properties of the facility.
Calculating the contours of a tailings facility accurately can help give a better insight into how the facility is
performing and how it will perform in the future. This is perhaps better presented by highlighting the
advantages to attaining elevation data:
Conventional surface impoundments:
Areas that are susceptible to loss of freeboard can be determined.
The area and volume of the supernatant pond can be calculated accurately.
The available volume of tailings that can be stored at current embankment elevations can be
Depth of water around decant towers and barges can be determined.
The expected geometry of the supernatant pond if there is an elevation change (e.g. storm, decant
system failure) can be calculated.
The flow paths from individual spigots can be determined.
Beach widths and angles can be measured.
Variable consolidation rates can be assessed.
Areas of internal erosion or foundation settlement (e.g. piping, sink hole development) can be
Dry stack, paste, thickened impoundments:
The area and volume of the stacked material can be calculated.
The likely flow paths of the tailings discharging from the spigots can be identified.
Calculation of the likely zoning timescales and covering of desiccated areas is possible.
The slope angles of the deposit can be measured.
The areas around the perimeter where the bleed water will collect can be identified.
It is important to have a high accuracy of elevation data as the majority of tailings facilities cover large areas
which can cause a significant error to water management calculations. This is particularly true for
conventional tailings facilities where the beach angles are shallow and there is a significant distance between
the discharge points and the decant facility.
Determining elevation data of a tailings facility can be achieved by a variety of methods. This paper
summarises various methods of obtaining elevation data of the surface of a tailings facility quickly, easily,
accurately and in a cost effective way. The idea behind this research is to establish highly accurate data to
allow 3D models to be generated which can be modelled with GIS software. These models will be discussed
and a few examples given to demonstrate how knowing elevation data can help to improve the management
of a tailings storage facility. One of the most notable outcomes of these models will be the ability to predict
supernatant pond geometry, the flow paths and accumulations from multiple discharge points.
Air Navigation Order (2000) Statutory Instrument No 2000/1562.
Doneus, M. (1996) Introduction to photogrammetry, University of Vienna, Viewed 20th September 2005
Gilbert, C. (1997) GPS consumer series: the vertical component of GPS, Earth Observation Magazine May 1997. Viewed 25th
Harding, J. (2000) Airborne laser altimeter terrain mapping, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Viewed 5th September 2005
Molander, C., Merritt, S. and Corrubia, A. (2002) Marrying photogrammetry and LIDAR, Earth Observation Magazine June 2002.
Viewed 25th September 2005 <
Newson. T. and Fahey, M. (1997) Site investigation on active tailings deposits using a hovercraft, Australian Geotechnical Journal,
31, June, pp. 45-55.
Rules of the Air Regulations (1996) Statutory Instrument No 1996/1393.
Surpac (Sirovision™), Digital photogrammetry digital photo imaging, Viewed 25th September 2005