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5 December 2016

The critical role of geospatial mapping for mining

The mining industry undeniably impacts the natural landscape, both directly in terms of physical change and indirectly by influencing surrounding areas such as water and air quality. It also changes local population dynamics, serving as a catalyst for infrastructure development and job creation. Having an awareness and understanding of these impacts is becoming increasingly critical for the sector to operate in a responsible manner and should be incorporated into major decision-making processes, writes Laura Cornish.

The ability to spatially quantify the current extent of mining activity in a regional context is an important component and often a prerequisite in many regional assessment or monitoring procedures where spatial intelligence is required in support of decision making.

In response to this, privately owned geospatial mapping and remote sensing specialist GeoTerraImage has released a new geospatial dataset tool called ‘Mining in southern Africa’ which provides precise locational intelligence on current mining activity across twelve countries, from the gold mines in South Africa to the Copperbelt mines in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

It specifically covers Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – in addition to South Africa and southern DRC. Mark Thompson, director at GeoTerraImage, explains that the data generated was completed over a 24 month timeframe using the latest generation of 30 m resolution, Landsat 8 satellite imagery. The information is available as a geospatial map-based product, suitable for GIS (geographic information systems) applications or as an Excel spreadsheetbased database. It has captured all mining-related activity across the sub-continent, from mine water (fl ooded pits and tailing dams), (evaporative) ‘salt mines’, (road-side) ‘borrow-pits and small quarries’ and all ‘other’ mines, mainly representative of the larger commercial operations. (No distinction has been made between active or decommissioned mines, although the occurrence of flooded pits may be an indirect indicator of activity status.)

Ultimately, it represents the baseline for present mining extents which can be used in understanding historical change and future growth potential of mining activity. “Converging business with this location intelligence can reveal important insights and also provide users a competitive advantage. It is a validation tool,” Thompson highlights.

It is important to note that this mining specific information is an update and expansion of an existing baseline landscape analysis that started in South Africa and has been expanded across the southern African region. “This regional landscape analysis is completely independent and self-funded by GeoTerraImage”, explains Thompson. “The mining-specific data tool was created as a modifi cation and upgrade following interest for this specific data from environmental groups and the sector itself; and we are currently enhancing the tool by adding information on agriculture and human settlement patterns.”

But it is in combination with GeoTerraImage’s additional geospatial tools that the mining industry truly starts to see benefits. “We can overlap our mining dataset with other in-house maps that highlight supplementary equally important mining related information – such as populations and their proximity to a mine, or the presence of wetlands or even artisanal activity,” Thompson explains. This information is highly valuable to a mining company and can help it make informative decisions that can secure government buy-in/consent as well as the highly critical social licence to operate. Governments would also benefit immensely from such information when looking to award new licences or verify mining activity in their own countries.

“We want to add value to the mining industry and further support those businesses that track the industry as well by providing comparative information and information that can help make strategic decisions. Our new tool in particular can be used as a reference base on which to converge end-user business with location intelligence to help reveal or confi rm important regional insights on current mining activity and impact,” Thompson concludes. MRA

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