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Enhancing Tailings Dam Saftey: The Role of AI in Predicting Failures



by TNA Editor | 29th June 2023

1 minute read


Tailings dams play a crucial role in mining operations by storing mining by-products, commonly known as tailings. The safety and maintenance of these dams are of utmost importance to prevent environmental disasters, such as dam failures, which can have devastating consequences.

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful tool in tailings dam maintenance, offering innovative solutions that enhance safety, efficiency, and sustainability. One key area where AI shows great potential is in predicting tailings dam failures, allowing for proactive measures to be taken and mitigating the risk of catastrophic events.

Monitoring and Detection with AI

Monitoring data is essential for ensuring the safety of tailings dams as it enables the detection of variations in environmental variables and potential issues within the dam structure.

Conventional instruments like piezometers, water level indicators, and flow meters, along with non-conventional instruments such as ETR, Radar, InSAR, and Microseismic, have been traditionally used for monitoring purposes.

However, the integration of sensor networks and AI algorithms can significantly enhance the monitoring process. By leveraging real-time data analysis and machine learning techniques, AI algorithms can effectively detect and predict potential issues within tailings dams.

These systems analyze data from various sensors and instruments, identifying patterns, anomalies, and deviations from expected behaviour. Early identification of seepage, excessive settlement, or structural instability can trigger timely alerts to operators, enabling them to take preventive measures and avoid catastrophic failures.

Determining Control Limits and Anomaly Detection

AI plays a crucial role in establishing control limits and detecting anomalies in geotechnical monitoring data of tailings dams. Traditional approaches rely on deterministic studies and domain knowledge to define control limits based on numerical models. However, these methods have limitations, including the lack of input information, modelling efforts, and difficulty incorporating stochastic elements.

In contrast, AI techniques utilize machine learning and statistical approaches to predict the expected behaviour of monitoring data. By identifying deviations from established patterns, AI algorithms can set control level thresholds and detect anomalies more accurately.

This data-driven approach provides more reasonable control levels for instruments based on monitoring data and offers greater accuracy in indicating anomalous trends. As a result, geotechnical monitoring can progress towards becoming more data-driven, improving overall safety and risk management.

Remote Monitoring and Robotics

AI-powered remote monitoring systems and robotics are transforming the inspection and maintenance of tailings dams. Drones equipped with AI algorithms can autonomously inspect dam structures, capturing high-resolution imagery and collecting real-time data.

This eliminates the need for manual inspections in hazardous or hard-to-reach areas, minimizing human risk and enhancing efficiency. AI can also analyze the collected data, identifying anomalies or potential issues that require attention.

This enables proactive maintenance, timely interventions, and informed decision-making for dam operators.


The integration of AI in predicting tailings dam failures holds immense potential for the mining industry.

By combining sensor networks, real-time data analysis, and machine learning algorithms, AI enables early detection and prediction of potential issues within dams.

This proactive approach empowers operators to take preventive measures, significantly reducing the risk of catastrophic events and ensuring the safety of surrounding communities and the environment.

Furthermore, AI-driven remote monitoring and robotics offer efficient and effective means of inspecting and maintaining tailings dams, further enhancing safety and sustainability in mining operations.

As AI technology continues to evolve, it promises to revolutionize the field of tailings dam maintenance and play a vital role in mitigating risks associated with these critical structures.

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