Nicholas Arndt – The Need for Improved Methods of Monitoring Tailings Dams

Nicholas Arndt, Richard Lynch, Dan Hollis, Aurélien Mordret, Anaïs Lavoué, Sophie Beauprêtre, Romeo Courbis, Charles Beard

Sisprobe, 24 allée des Vulpains, 38240 Meylan, France

“In the reported 18,000 mines around the world, the failure rate (of tailings dams) in the past 100 years is estimated at 1.2%. On average, three of the world’s 3,500 tailings dams fail every year. Keeping the tailings pond safe and stable is the most challenging task in the entire mining process”[1]. Failures of tailings dams cause immense economic, social & ecological damage; they harm the reputation of the mining industry and hinder all aspects of mineral exploration & mining [2].

Currently, tailings dams are monitored using techniques ranging from visual inspection, through to point measurements using piezometers, to satellite-based techniques. Recent dam failures, and the UN Environmental Program decision to implement a New Global Standard on Tailings Management [3] show, however, that these methods remain inadequate and that both construction and monitoring techniques must be improved.

In this talk we will discuss the causes and consequences of failures of tailings dams and describe current and improved methods for monitoring not only tailings dams but all other infrastructure associated with the treatment and storage of mine waste. The emphasis will be on innovative passive seismic techniques using optical fibres as sensors and the results will be illustrated using examples from Europe, Africa, North America and Australia.

Fig 1. Monitoring a tailings dam in Sweden using ambient noise seismology


[1] Lyu Z., Chai J., Xu Z, Qin Y., Jing Cao J. (2019) A Comprehensive Review on Reasons for Tailings Dam Failures Based on Case History. Advances in Civil Engineering, Volume 2019, 4159306,

[2] [3]