Combining Technologies for Real-time Tailings Dam Monitoring

Case Study

aerial map depicting monitoring technologies at a tailings dam in Brazil

Author: Rafael Cruz, Rogerio Weigert, Megan Hansen 

Tailings dams that store mining by-products require continuous monitoring and analysis to maintain the safety of nearby communities and employees and protect the environment from exposure to mining waste. After disastrous dam breaches in Brazil in 2015 and 2019, companies in the mineral sector have increased their investment in monitoring systems to evaluate the stability of tailings dams, take preventative actions and enable timely warnings for sudden events. 

Dedicated to safety and sustainability, Mineração Morro do Ipê (MMI), a company managing two mines in Brazil, monitors their tailings dams continuously and in real-time with Hexagon Geosystems’ state-of-the-art total monitoring sensors and software, enabling informed decisions with comprehensive data. 

A way forward: Improving safety and sustainability at mines in Brazil   

Tailings dams store waste that accumulates from processing rock to retrieve valuable minerals and metals. In Brazil and beyond, monitoring tailings dams is crucial to protect local and downstream communities and prevent environmental disasters. Embanked by earthwork structures, these dams grow incrementally as additional waste is generated across the life of the mining operation. When not carefully monitored and managed, structural failures can occur, releasing waste downstream without warning.

Two stark examples occurred in Brazil in 2015 and 2019, when, in both instances, tailings dams in the Minas Gerais region had catastrophic failures that unleashed torrents of liquefied waste, destroying local communities, contaminating the water supply and resulting in many deaths. 

However, mining companies in Brazil are now looking for a way forward to improve safety and sustainability. Mineração Morro do Ipê (MMI), founded in 2016, is a company dedicated to this mission at the Ipê and Tico-Tico mines and iron ore processing units in the Serra Azul region of Brazil. They pursue this goal through a holistic solution with continuous geodetic monitoring for structural displacements and radar monitoring to provide alerts in the case of sudden events.

Total Monitoring Solution at Ipê and Tico-Tico

Designed in consultation with Hexagon’s Total Monitoring experts, MMI acquired and installed geodetic and radar monitoring systems at the Ipê and Tico-Tico mine’s two tailings dams. These systems included the following instruments and software from Leica Geosystems and IDS GeoRadar:


MMI needed a holistic solution that could ensure continuous deformation monitoring for two tailings dams, including features for analysis, alerting and reporting. 

“We selected the monitoring equipment from Hexagon because of the accuracy, robustness and state-of-the-art technology,” explains Rodrigo Oliveira, Geotechnical Manager at MMI.