Pascua Lama

Proglacial Mining Projects (Open File)

Posted by William Colgan on January 08, 2015
Applied Glaciology, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

Proglacial mines, meaning mining operations adjacent to, or very close to, glaciers, face a variety of unique glaciological challenges not present in conventional mining operations: (1) Removing ice overburden to access a subglacial ore introduces both ice excavation and ice flow management challenges. (2) In addition to potential crevasse hazards, supraglacial vehicle access roads must use adaptive engineering to counteract ice movement (both horizontal and vertical) as well as differential surface ablation. (3) Tremendous glacier meltwater runoff, concentrated during the summer melt season, can be difficult to route across highly transient glacier surfaces in order to minimize site inflow/contact water. (4) The dust created by open pit operations or access roads can darken the surface of nearby glaciers, enhancing their solar absorption and surface melt rates, and ultimately expand the impact footprint of a mine. (5) The catastrophic drainage of supraglacial and/or ice-dammed lakes represent outburst flood hazards which can rapidly increase site inflow rates. (6) Subglacial hydrology can interact with the groundwater seepage in underground mining operations beneath glaciers. We touch on some of these glaciological hazards in the new textbook: “Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks, and Disasters”. These geotechnical challenges make proglacial mining projects very unique. I started this “open file” inventory of proglacial mining projects (past, present and future) and their associated glaciological challenges as I pull together information for an applied glaciology review paper. Please alert me to any errors or oversights!

ProjectPrime
Minerals
LocationGlaciological ChallengesApparent
Status
Isua
[Fig. 1]
Fe 65.195 °N, 49.790 °W
(Greenland)
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- supraglacial lake outbursts
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Approved in 2013.
Kumtor
[Fig. 2]
Au41.862 °N, 78.196 °E
(Kyrgyzstan)
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Active since 1997.
Kerr-Sulphurets-
Mitchell
[Fig. 3]
Au, Ag, Cu, Mo56.491 °N, 130.335 °W
(Canada)
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Approved in 2014.
TutoN/A76.417 °N, 68.269°W
(Greenland)
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
Historic project (1955 to 1959).
GranducCu56.247 °N, 130.089 °W
(Canada)
- ice removal / flow management
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Historic project (1964 to 1983).
MalmbjergMo 71.964 °N, 24.289 °W
(Greenland)
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Prospect.
Brucejack
[Fig. 3]
Au, Ag56.468 °N, 130.164 °W
(Canada)
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
Approved in 2015.
Maarmorilik
(Phase Two expansion)
Zn, Pb71.094 °N, 51.027°W
(Greenland)
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Prospect.
Svea Nord | Gruve
[Fig. 6]
C77.893 °N, 16.689 °E
(Norway)
- subglacial miningActive since 2001.
El Morro
(La Fortuna expansion)
[Fig. 4]
Cu, Au33.167 °S, 70.274 °W
(Chile)
- darkening of nearby glaciersActive since c. 2008.
Permit suspended in 2014.
Pascua Lama
[Fig. 5]
Au, Ag29.327 °S, 70.035°W
(Chile / Argentina)
- darkening of nearby glaciersActive since 2010.
Permit suspended in 2013.
KvanefjeldU60.963 °N, 45.957 °W
(Greenland)
- darkening of nearby glaciersProspect.
Red MountainAu, Ag55.970 °N, 129.721 °W
(Canada)
- proglacial and/or subglacial depositsProspect.
Grasberg [Fig. 7]Au, Cu4.060 °S, 137.146 °E
(Indonesia)
- darkening of nearby glaciers
- glacier removal to access subglacial deposit
Active since c. 1995.

Below are some site overview figures, they are available for distribution without attribution tags as well. I hope to make one for each project by the end of 2015. Content on this page can be cited as:

Colgan, W., H. Thomsen and M. Citterio. in press. Unique Applied Glaciology Challenges of Proglacial Mining. Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin.

Isua_Mine

Figure 1 – The Isua Mine in Greenland: Contemporary ice margins, proposed approximate pit area, and winter 2005/06 ice surface velocity vectors overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Kumtor_Mine

Figure 2 – The Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan: Historic ice margins and contemporary mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell_Mine_Brucejack_Prospect

Figure 3 – The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine and Bruckjack Prospect in Canada: Contemporary ice margins, approximate mine surface areas, and proposed supraglacial access roads overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

El_Morro_Mine

Figure 4 – The El Morro mine in Chile: Contemporary ice margins and mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Pascua_Lama_Mine

Figure 5 – The Pascua Lama mine on the Chile/Argentina border: Contemporary ice margins and mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image. The Valadero mine is also visible immediately south of the Pascua Lama mine.

Svea_Nord_and_Gruve_Mines

Figure 6 – The Svea Nord / Gruve Mines in Svalbard (Norway): Contemporary ice margins and underground mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.

Grasberg_w_label2

Figure 7 – Grasberg Mine in Indonesia: Contemporary mine area and ice margins in a 2003 Landsat image.

 

 

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Glacier Mining: Geotechnical and Social Exceptionalism

Posted by William Colgan on November 07, 2014
Applied Glaciology, Climate Change, Glaciers and Society / 1 Comment

When the glaciology lexicon was in its infancy, Carl Benson described glaciers as “monomineralic metamorphic rocks” in his pioneering work with the US Army Engineers1. Given the lower density and strength of ice than coal, it may seem like glacier ice is an easy overburden to remove for open pit mining. Experience, however, has demonstrated that there are exceptional geotechnical challenges associated with removing glacier ice overburden. These challenges stem from geometry, hydrology and phase, all of which change far more rapidly in glaciers than hard rock2. The apparent surge of a waste rock pile at the Kumtor Mine, in Kyrgyzstan, highlights the exceptional geotechnical challenges confronting Centerra Gold in maintaining the world’s largest open ice pit mine.

With glaciers serving as a highly visible indicator of climate change, glacier mining projects often face exceptional social challenges in comparison to conventional hard rock mining projects. The Pascua Lama Mine, which spans the Chile-Argentina border, highlights how glacier preservation is a global movement that adapts to local issues. Glaciers therefore serve as the basis for a “glocal”, or globalized local, social movement3. Barrick Founder Peter Munk has commented on the social challenges confronting Pascua Lama: “It’s not enough to have money, it’s not enough to have reserves, it’s not enough to have great mining people. Today, the single most critical factor in growing a mining company is a social consensus – a license to mine.”4

The combination of long term increases in resource demand, retreating glaciers due to climate change, and improved mining technology and prospecting techniques, are making the exploitation of pro- and sub-glacial mineral deposits more feasible. This means a more widespread confrontation of the geotechnical and social exceptionalism of glacier mining in the coming decades!

Kumtor_1975_2013

Glacier and waste rock extent between 1975 and 2013 in the vicinity of Kumtor Mine (from Landsat archive).

PascuaLama

Glaciers in the vicinity of the Pascua Lama Mine on the Chile-Argentina border (from WikiCommons).

1Benson, C. 1962. Stratigraphic studies in the snow and firn of the Greenland ice sheet. Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Esatablishment. US Army. Research Report 70.

2Colgan, W. and L. Arenson. 2013. Open-Pit Glacier Ice Excavation: Brief Review.
Journal of Cold Regions Engineering. 27: doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CR.1943-5495.0000057.

3Urkidi, L. 2010. A glocal environmental movement against gold mining: Pascua–Lama in Chile. Ecological Economics. 70: 219-227.

4Smith, C. 2014. Sustainability Challenges: When Good Intentions Backfire. NSEAD Knowledge

Additional Landsat images of Kumtor here.

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