Monitoring Tailing Dams at Mines using Earth Observation

Members of the International Partnership Programme travelled to Peru recently to visit one of their IPP projects which is looking at how satellite technology can be used to monitor Tailings Dams in the highlands of Peru.

But what are tailings dams?

Tailings are the residual material leftover from the mining process and are often toxic and a major pollution threat. This material is stored behind a tailings damuntil the mining process is over and the land can be terraformed. The problem is that these dams are often unstable and prone to leaking pollutants and potential collapse. This risk was realised in the January 2019 when a tailings dam in Brazil collapsed leading to the tragic death of nearly 250 people.

Liz Cox (Head of International in IPP) at the project site where the ground sensors shown will detect potential movement in the dam

The UK Space Agency was in Peru to visit the DAMSAT project led by HR Wallingford. This project is using satellite radar and optical data with ground Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensors to monitor movements in these dams. Their intention is to create a tool which will give advance warning to the authorities, allowing them to take pre-emptive action when required. Further details can be seen on this video recently produced by HR Wallingford.

A key objective of this visit was to meet with all the project partners and the key stakeholders in Peru. The IPP team were also involved with a press conference in the Cajamarca region of Peru were the work is working. Mining is a significant part of the economy in Cajamarca and the IPP team were glad to see enthusiasm and engagement from our in-country partners. There is clearly a need for the project’s objectives and potential for positive impacts.

The project has issued a first release of its system which is being reviews by the project partners and stakeholders. By the end of the project in March of 2021 they intend on having be a fully operational system, able to monitor industrial tailings dams remotely and alert the relevant authorities to heighted risk and the areas of potential impact.

This project is one of three projects in Peru, with IPP having a total of 33 projects working in 37 countries, working on a range of issues. See our website for more details on these projects around the world.

Earth and Sea Observation System (EASOS)

At the outset of the EASOS project, the Satellite Applications Catapult, with a consortium of companies from both the UK and Malaysia, set out to provide an informed and coordinated decision-making capability to the Malaysian Government.  The information that EASOS would provide covered three focus areas:

  1. the reduction of degradation to the mangrove coastline by reducing marine pollution in the Malacca Straits,
  2. the reduction of the impact of illegal logging,
  3. and the reduction of the economic and social cost of flood events.

As the project closes, EASOS has developed a highly automated, replicable system that works across these three domains and can be scaled across multiple countries. The Marine Watch, Forest Watch and Flood Watch domains are tested, live and being used to support government decision making in these three vital areas.

It has already enjoyed success in many real-life situations including earlier this year, when EASOS Marine Watch automatically detected two separate oil slicks off the coast of Malaysia’s Johor district.  The detections helped to speed up the clean-up response of the marine authorities, and whilst work continues to estimate the likely financial and environmental benefit from just one of these averted environmental disasters, early estimates based on impact to fisheries, tourism, the marine ecosystem and clean-up along 13km of coastline could have exceeded RM 8m/£1.5m.

Oil Slick Detection in EASOS Marine Watch

EASOS Flood Watch also provided support to operational management of flooding events during the 2017-18 monsoon season, and EASOS services have been delivered daily by the Satellite Applications Catapult directly to the Malaysian authorities and have aided decisions to evacuate people from their homes on four separate occasions as a result of accurate alerts generated by EASOS.

EASOS has also significantly impacted UK organisations, enabling them to develop new products and services, and is set to grow the economy further due to investments made by the Catapult in exploring increasing geographic scope outside of the initial areas of interest in Malaysia, opening up EASOS to other new potential suppliers and providing an access to new international distributors.

For more information on the ongoing work of the EASOS project, visit

UK Space Agency IPP – Vivid Economics in Côte d’Ivoire

At the current rate of deforestation, Côte d’Ivoire could lose its entire forest cover by 2034. Despite forests becoming rare, deforestation rates remain high, and the remaining 3-4 million hectares of forest are mainly threatened by the allocation of more land to agriculture. The country is the world’s largest supplier of cocoa, with most production coming from smallholder, low productivity farmers, particularly in the southwest region, home to much of the country’s remaining forest resources.

As part of the International Partnership Programme (IPP), UKSA have funded a project with Vivid Economics which seeks to increase rural economic growth; increase the sustainability of, and producer participation in global supply chains; and enable maximum-impact reforestation in Côte d’Ivoire through the use of satellite-based information.

The aim is to drive two outcomes: improved monitoring and enforcement efforts that prevent forest loss and prioritise afforestation and better-targeted support to local economic development and sustainable supply chains through payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes.

These two outcomes will be achieved with three foundational tools (called IMAGES) developed by Vivid Economics: a land use inventory, a natural capital valuation framework, and an early warning system that can monitor and anticipate deforestation. All three tools represent substantial improvements upon what is currently available, but the real benefit of the project lies in their combination and close integration into policy and regulatory activity. 

The project started in January 2017 and in November 2018 the operational system was officially adopted by and handed over to the Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Development and Planning at a ceremony in Abidjan. 

During the visit the UKSA and Vivid teams also travelled to the Cavally forest area in the South East of the country and saw the forest rangers from SODEFOR using the IMAGES system to identify areas of illegal cocoa planting that they wouldn’t have found without using the alerts from the system, demonstrating the operational effectiveness of the tool.

The next steps in the project are that the system will hopefully be rolled out to cover the whole country and will be adopted by other Ministries to help them with their planning.

The IPP programme has a number of projects working to make an impact on deforestation (more details can be found here and Caribou Space, the UKSA’s M&E partner, have written a report on how space technology has a critical role to play in addressing major challenges within forestry in emerging and developing economies (forestry report here).

UK Space Agency IPP – Advanced Coffee Crop Optimisation for Rural Development (ACCORD)

Coffee farms and washing station, Rulindo region, Rwanda

ACCORD, led by Earth-i and co-funded from the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP), uses satellite-enabled data to improve the livelihoods and incomes of smallholder coffee farmers. In November 2018, the IPP team travelled to Rwanda to meet with the international partners who help deliver the project’s impacts.

Coffee is a crucial global commodity. With sales of coffee increasing around the world, the income of many of farmers is tied to the quality, as well as the quantity of the coffee they produce. Earth-i’s ACCORD project uses earth observation data to help farmers make timely, important decisions about crops with greater certainty than traditional methods. This supports the sustainability of coffee as a cash crop for smallholder farmers, and therefore their livelihoods, by enabling them to deliver a more reliable harvest of higher quality coffee.

November’s visit was an opportunity for the IPP team to meet with the project’s consortium partners to review the progress of the project so far, hear input from all the partners and discuss the next steps for the project.

During our visit, we met with three coffee companies who are actively involved in ACCORD; Kinini, Coffee management Service (CMS) and San Francisco Bay Coffee Company (SFBC). Their expertise and local knowledge ensure the project delivers real and positive impacts to the smallholder farmers using the technology.

Rwanda is a small country and 84% of it is covered with farming plots.  More than three-fifths of families working as farmers each cultivate less than 0.7 hectares. The ACCORD project has reached over 20,000 plots in both Rwanda and Kenya, with the intention to reach 50,000 small farming plots by the end of the project.

ACCORD is just one of many IPP projects using space-enabled data to support agriculture in developing countries.  This report by Caribou Space outlines why and how the space technology has a critical role to play in addressing major challenges within agriculture in emerging and developing economies.

A small coffee plot being mapped as part of the ACCORD project in Cyangugu region
Coffee drying beds and washing station in Cyangugu region

UK Space Agency IPP – A property database in Dakar City, Senegal

UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme has 33 IPP projects across 33 countries, with 122 private sector, academic and NGO organisations consortiums members and 112 international partners. See more details on the IPP projects here.

Dakar has a population estimated at 1.2 million with a rapid growth rate of 4%. The city is built on a peninsula with very little remaining land for urban development and so a lot of development is upwards. Due to lack of records and poor tax base identification only about 15% of the potential tax is currently collected. The challenge, therefore, is to support the city to generate the municipal revenue required to fund further urban services and infrastructure.

Figure 1: Dakar on a peninsula

The solution provided compares very high-resolution stereo imagery from the Pléiades satellites acquired on different dates. The imagery consists of an optical image as well as a height component (Digital Surface Model) to enable change detection of building growth (both horizontally and vertically). Therefore, for each land parcel, indicators of change identified in the satellite imagery will assist in the city’s land administration process and in particular to enable the Operational Maintenance of a Property Database to support property tax revenues.

Figure 2: 3D visualisation of building growth in Dakar

Airbus was successful in proving that the solution could map areas of property change in Dakar with a potential for generating around €73 million annual tax revenue for Dakar. Airbus is continuing discussions with the national government for funding an expansion of the service in Dakar and other Senegalese cities. Airbus has identified interest from other African cities including Accra, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Abidjan and Kampala.

In October 2018 the UK Space Agency and Caribou Space visited Dakar with Airbus. A multi-stakeholder workshop was hosted with a range of government organisations, including representatives from: the Ministry of Economics, Finance and Planning (including the principal stakeholders: the Cadastre Unit of the General Directorate of Taxes and Lands (DGID)); the Ministry of Higher Education and Research; the Municipal Development Agency; the National Mapping Directorate, which is part of the Agency for Spatial Planning; the State Informatics Agency; and, the Executive Council of Urban Transport in Dakar. A separate ministerial briefing with the Ministry of Higher Education and Research was supported by the British Ambassador to Senegal and, finally, a wrap-up was held with senior staff from DGID.

UK Space Agency IPP – HR Wallingford Tailings Dams Peru

UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme has 33 IPP projects across 33 countries, with 122 private sector, academic and NGO organisations consortiums members and 112 international partners. See more details on the IPP projects here.

A project with HR Wallingford is working to resolve is the issue of unstable and unsafe tailings dams in Peru. Tailings dams are earth embankments used to store toxic mine waste and effluent which can be more than 100m high. They are often constructed with steep slopes using the residual tailings to save on costs.

Their rate of failure is high, owing to inadequate design regulations and less rigorous construction methods than for normal water retaining dams. This can threaten populations downstream and adversely affect sensible environments. The rate of tailings dam failures is seen to be increasing, with 49% of serious tailings dam failures in the last 70 years occurring between 1990 and 2010 (Bowker and Chambers, 2015). Tailings dams often contain hazardous substances that can contaminate food chains and drinking water.

Funded by the UK Space Agency, HR Wallingford are working with a consortium from across the UK and Peru. The solution combines satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) interferometry and real-time Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) with a goal of achieving a high level of automation for dam monitoring. This technique will be less expensive and require less expertise to employ than existing monitoring. This tool will give government agencies the ability to monitor larger numbers of dams across remote regions and allow them to take proactive action and intervene.

During a recent visit to the UK from our Peruvian partners, the UK Space Agency was happy to host a meeting with representatives from Universidad Nacional de Cajamarca: Escuela de Ingeniería Hidráulica, Facultad de Ingeniería (National University of Cajamarca, School ofHydraulic Engineering and Faculty of Engineering), Fundación Nacional de Ingeniería Hidráulica (National Foundation for Hydraulic Engineering) and CIEMAM.

The UK Space Agency highly values the input of our international partners in our projects. Working with our Peruvian counterparts is essential for understanding the local context and the nature of the challenge. We value their expertise and commitment to the project.

More details on this project can be seen at –

References: Bowker, L.N.  and Chambers, D.M. (2015) The risk, public liability, and economics of tailings storage facility failures

SatSummit 2018 – Satellite Data for Global Development

David Taverner of Caribou Space presented for UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme at SatSummit 2018.

SatSummit convenes leaders in the satellite industry and experts in global development for in-depth conversations on solving the world’s most critical development challenges with satellite data. From climate change to population growth to natural resource availability, earth observation data offers insights into today’s biggest global issues.

The benefits of space for agriculture were presented, including:

  • Increase production through decision support tools and affordability of credit
  • Improve supply chain efficiency to reduce losses
  • Sustainable management of environmental resources and supply chain traceability
  • Resilience to climate change through accuracy of early warning systems and affordability of insurance

The forecast impacts of IPP’s agricultural portfolio were also presented, including:

  • Six projects (~£21M), in 8 countries, for potatoes, grapes, bananas, wheat, sugarcane, coffee, rice & palm oil
  • 3-5% yield gain for 5,000 farmers. One project aiming to double yields for 25,000 farmers
  • 5-25% increase in insurance penetration and 10% decrease in premiums, improving resilience to climate change
  • Improving efficiency and reducing losses from pests, disease, drought and floods
  • 1M hectares of land under sustainable management

Further information on the role of space and IPP programme’s efforts global agricultural challenges are available in this report: Space for Agriculture in Developing Countries.

UK Space Agency IPP – Inmarsat’s Satellite Technology to Promote Inclusive and Sustainable Fishing in Indonesia

The Indonesian fishing sector is a critical driver of the economy and society, supporting seven million fishers, and not only supports millions of households but is also part of a valuable global export business. However, environmentally unsustainable fishing, including illegal and unreported fishing, harms the entire value chain, as well as introducing safety and security challenges. Indonesian economic losses of up to US$20 billion a year are attributed to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Fishing boats in Indonesia

This Inmarsat project, supported by UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme, is expanding the use of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS). VMS are systems used in commercial fishing to allow environmental and fisheries regulatory organisations to track and monitor the activities of fishing vessels. The project is designing additional services to be carried by VMS, and designing new operational protocols for policing and fisheries management, incentivising fishers to use VMS actively. Working with the Indonesian government to create the right processes to interpret and react to the data generated, will strengthen the surveillance capabilities of the Ministry, improve the policing of illegal fishing and of conservation areas, and move the industry onto a more sustainable and more profitable basis. Finally, it will provide valuable industry information on catches and sourcing.

UK Space Agency team visited Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia in August 2018. UKSA was invited to attend the four-day visit to Indonesia organised by Inmarsat. The visit presented an ideal opportunity to meet with all the project partners, to understand their contribution and interest in the project as part of the Mid Term Evaluation (MTE). UKSA’s role was to observe the MTE to see if it was conducted professionally and independently and to assess the degree to which the project is on track to achieve its outcomes and impacts towards project closure end June 2019.

Overall impression from the MTE was that the project looks very positive as some outcomes and potential impacts seem to be on the horizon with good stories of use of system in SAR (Search and Rescue) and adding value to all stakeholders. Processors and fishermen value the system and want to keep the system after the project ends – ensuring there is long term sustainability of the project’s benefits after the UKSA grant funding ends. VMS Regulation for <30GT vessels would be a key deciding factor for sustainability and seems to be welcome by many stakeholders. The equipment has proved to be highly effective in communicating critical and non-critical emergencies. The user fishers found it very useful while they are at sea to communicate with their family, fishing port, fellow fishers (including for more ice and spare parts). Even more so it is being used for emergency contact, safety/distress alerts and fishers welfare information. The pilot fleet of ~200 active <30 GT vessels are now transmitting VMS data on their position, speed and track for the first time in Indonesia.

More details on this project can be seen here:

Radiant Earth Foundation and their Open Platform

As of September 5, 2018, the Radiant Earth Foundation replaces Radiant.Earth, strengthening our non-profit identity, lessening any brand confusion that may exist, and removing that awkward “.” between Radiant and Earth.

With this small but important name change, the Radiant Earth Foundation looks forward to continuing its important work on behalf of the global development community, bridging commercial, government, academic and non-profit sectors for improved contributions and benefits.

Founded in 2016, Radiant Earth Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to aggregating the world’s open Earth imagery and providing access and education on its use to the global development community. Through its open platform, Radiant Earth Foundation allows people to search, discover, and analyze millions of ongoing collection of satellite, aerial and drone data on the cloud—instantly, securely and for free.

Users can access imagery from numerous cloud-integrated sources such as NASA/USGS Landsat 4,5,7 and 8 satellites; the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2A and 2B; the NASA MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) sensor on the Terra and Aqua satellites; NASA ISERV camera on board International Space Station; commercial imagery from Planet; and any satellite, airborne or drone imagery that a user provides via an easy user interface or a powerful application program interface (API). Users can also integrate non-imagery data, including air quality, population, and weather statistics using the API.

Radiant Earth Foundation is hosting a webinar on 26 September 2018 at 5:00 PM CEST: Learn how to Access and Analyze Earth Observation Imagery: An open platform for global development by Radiant Earth Foundation. The webinar will include a demonstration of the platform’s capabilities and a Q&A session.

Save the date: On Wed, Sep 26, 2018, 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM CEST. Further details are here:

Partnerships for Pest Risk Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa

The UK Space Agency visit Ghana to meet with the PRISE project team

An estimated 40% of the world’s crops are lost to pests[1], impacting on smallholder farmers’ ability to feed their families, on international trade and food supply chains, and hampering the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 (No Poverty and Zero Hunger).

The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International’s (CABI) Pest Risk Information SErvice (PRISE) is a £6.3 million project supported by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP). PRISE is working to transform the lives of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa by providing a novel pest prediction tool, which combines cutting-edge Earth Observation technology, satellite positioning, plant health modelling, and on-the-ground real-time observations to deliver a science-based service. The first ‘Baseline’ version of the system is already live in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana, and the service is expected to expand into another 2-3 Sub-Saharan African countries by 2021.

Strong working partnerships and the sharing of expertise are key to the delivery of this innovative project. CABI is collaborating with Assimila Ltd, Kings College London, and the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis in the UK and government agencies in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia[2] to realise the project’s ambitious aims.

In July 2018 the UK Space Agency team visited Ghana to meet with the PRISE partners and experience first-hand the excellent work being undertaken to develop the system.

The packed 4-day schedule included 2 days of stakeholder workshops, during which project partners and stakeholders came together to share feedback on the first release of the PRISE system. The workshops enabled valuable discussions on how the system will evolve over the next few years to provide pest alerts for further crops and pests and reach more people and user groups.

Stakeholder workshop participants

During the visit, the High Commission hosted a well-attended publicity launch to celebrate the release of PRISE Baseline, with speeches from the British High Commissioner to Ghana and the Director of Ghana’s Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate highlighting the unanimous in-country support for the project.

Plant doctors providing information to smallholder farmers through a mobile plant clinic session 

The final day of the trip provided the opportunity for the UK Space Agency to meet with small-holder farmers and agricultural extension workers (known as ‘plant doctors’) at a Plantwise Plant Health Clinic in the village of Duayaden. The clinics consist of group presentations and one-on-one ‘consultations’ in which farmers can discuss their issues related to crop pests and diseases and other challenges. The sessions enable plant doctors to share their expertise – supported by Plantwise Knowledge Bank and PRISE predictions – with farmers to help them to prevent crop losses through effective pest risk management strategies.

Watch a short video about PRISE here.

You can read more about PRISE and other International Partnership Programme Projects in our new brochure.

A new report written by Caribou Space, ‘Space for Agriculture in Developing Countries’, provides an introduction to why and how space solutions can help to tackle agriculture challenges in developing countries.

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization, 2015

[2] CABI’s in-country partners are Plant Protection & Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD, Ghana), Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MOALF) and Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI)