Placements for academic researchers in industry, companies and public authorities to facilitate the technological transfer of Copernicus skills to end-users.

Geospatial mining transparency through Copernicus and MapX

Elsy Ibrahim and Eric Pirard
University of Liège and the United Nations Environment Programme

The sustainable use of natural resources is essential for all stakeholders in the mining sector. Informed dialogue, decision making, and monitoring are the foundation for sustainability objectives and can only be achieved through transparency and the equalization of information at the level of individual mining sites. Copernicus satellite acquisitions can greatly contribute to that through free access to high quality geospatial information. On the other hand, MapX (, an impartial and independent online mapping and monitoring platform for natural resources, provides the technology and monitoring tools to manage, analyze, visualize, and share available information.

CopX’s objective is to create a powerful link between Copernicus acquisitions and the MapX platform through extensive analyses of Sentinel-2 acquisitions and their integration with other data into MapX. The case study is alluvial mining in Colombia.

The alluvial gold mining challenge in Colombia offers the chance to help the local community and allows the integration of data from various stakeholders (UN and local agencies, industry, etc.). The majority of these mines are illegal and reported to have devastating social and environmental impacts. Such activities create a spirit of low acceptance for mining industries in the nation and worldwide.  Alluvial mines are typically of secondary deposits, i.e. of gold particles that tend to concentrate in water channels, giving rise to “placeres auríferos”. Using spaceborne imagery, one can detect lasting impacts on land or temporary evidence on water bodies. With the support of the United Nations Environment Programme, illegal alluvial mining in Antioquia will be mapped using Sentinel-2 with a focus Bajo Cauca on the Cauca River basin. Illegal mining sites have already been mapped using Landsat 8, yet Sentinel-2 can improve the quality and quantity of available data and allows suitable mapping of environmental impacts. The work also contributes to the traceability efforts of gold that is currently important to supply chains and to the general public.

Sentinel-2 image of El Bagre, Colombia

A ground monitoring system combining Sentinel-1 and seismics

This placement project is carried out under the auspices of the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera (ICTJA) and the Institute of Geosciences (IGEO), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Atalaya Mining. It aims to push further the synergies created in a previous RawMatCop research project.

Researcher: Dr. Ignacio Marzan
Supervisor: Dr. Martin Schimmel
Company contact: Angelo Farci

Project summary:

Ground deformation is one of the most important hazards related to mining activities. Earthworks, digging and pumping change soil mechanical properties and can cause landslides, subsidence or runoff drifting. These disasters can have serious consequences, economically, environmentally and in terms of human life. Environmental awareness is growing, but at the same time the mining of critical raw materials (CRM) is mandatory in an increasingly technology-based economy. Therefore, to guarantee their viability, the mining industry cannot continue to be seen as a destructive force. In this context, our project aims to reduce ground stability hazard to improve mining viability both economically and environmentally. Our testing site is the Riotinto mine, SW Spain.

Our approach combines interferometry of Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR, Sentinel-1) and seismic Ambient Noise Interferometry (ANI) in a monitoring tool called InTarsis.

The low-cost, low maintenance, ubiquity and stand-alone capability of these technologies make them ideal for monitoring. However, due to their complexity, InSAR and ANI are not commonly used. InTarsis wants to transfer these technologies to the administration and industry by improving usability in a web tool.

InTarsis proposes two innovative approaches to the soil instability problem:

  • Monitoring the target from two points of view to minimize uncertainty. InSAR for surface deformation and ANI for subsurface extension.
  • The integration of InSAR and ANI means that we are monitoring using electromagnetic and mechanic waves.

Our expected impacts are:

  • To increase mining profits by reducing risks.
  • To reduce mining environmental impact.
  • To improve InSAR (Sentinel-1) & ANI usability
  • To improve Copernicus data capability by the integration with geophysical data
  • To open a new business opportunity by applying InTarsis to other mining sites and other sectors.

The name InTarsis is the combination of “In” from interferometry and “Tarsis” from the unknown biblical place that some scholars locate in the Riotinto area as the Kingdom of the Tartessos,  whose mines were the source of King Solomon’s great wealth, especially silver, but also gold, tin and iron (Ezekiel 27). Tarsis is known as “El Dorado” of ancient times. 


InSAR monitoring with Sentinel-1 in Riotinto showing subsidence in the abandoned pit

Loss of similarity in the autocorrelation of one seismic station in Riotinto mine due to temporal changes in the subsoil mechanical properties.