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GIS in Mining 

 
Author: Maurie Phifer (Montana Tech)

Revised: February 2012

Summary

This review describes how geographical information systems (GIS) can be used in all areas of the mining industry from mine and ore body exploration, to development and production, to closure and reclamation. This review also details consultants and suppliers that specialize in GIS, as well as listing websites that may be utilized to obtain more information on GIS.

INTRODUCTION

GIS is a comprehensive technology that has been specifically designed to compile, process, analyze, display, and archive extensive volumes of data. A well designed, implemented, and supported GIS management structure is critical in the success of any mining operation.

Sophisticated technology is required to find, extract, and manage the resources in the earth's crust. Since mining is inherently spatial, requiring accurate knowledge of areas of the earth's surface and subsurface, geospatial technology is best suited to intelligently oversee all phases of the mine operation. GIS gives mining companies the tools they need to operate mines responsibly and at optimum efficiency.

GIS can be used by mining companies to target mineral exploration, evaluate mining conditions, model mine construction, and display data such as geochemical or hydrological. GIS can also be employed in applying for mining permits, assessing environmental impact, and designing closure and reclamation plans. Although GIS is an important tool for many industries, this review is mainly an overview of the different uses of GIS in the mining industry and a listing of sources of mining consultants and suppliers.

If you seek a very basic overview of GIS go to the Army Engineer Research and Development Center booklet Computer-Aided Design and Drafting and Geographic Information System Concepts and Technology. If you know the basics of CADD and GIS, proceed with this review in clear conscience.


GIS IN MINING

Fig.4 - The accompanying Landsat Thematic Mapper image shows a false-color infrared image of the same area in 30-meter pixels, or picture elements. (Image source: USGS) With the advent of Geographical Information System (GIS), many mining activities (from exploration to stope development, and production to mine rehabilitation) evolved from pure luck to science. Gone were the days when operations would rely on linen and paper maps and old surveys and drawings and superimposing transparencies to create layers and composite images.

GIS replaced old map-analysis processes, traditional drawing tools, and drafting and database technologies.


EXPLORATION

GIS is ideal for integrating various exploration datasets such as geophysical images, geochemistry, geologic maps, radiometric surveys, boreholes, and mineral deposits. GIS gives the explorationist tools to manage, display, and analyze data, resulting in successful, cost-effective discovery of new mineral deposits.

Mapping of mineral potential using GIS is conducted to delineate areas with different probabilities of hosting certain types of mineralization. The main steps in generating mineral potential maps are:

Fig.5 - 3D GIS
  1. establishing the exploration conceptual model
  2. building a spatial database
  3. spatial data analysis (extraction of evidence maps and assigning of weights); and
  4. combination of evidence maps to predict mineral potential

Here are some examples of sites and papers (.pdf):


DEVELOPMENT AND PRODUCTION

GIS can be used extensively during the development and production phases of a mining operation. Reserve estimates, annual planned production, or cost-per-ton statistics can be linked to complementary geospatial technology, such as GPS. GIS can be applied to both short-term and long-term scheduling to help optimize production at operations. Fig.7 - Sources of pollution are represented as points. The colored circles show distance from pollution sources and the wetlands are in dark green.

GIS is used by mine planners to establish the optimal location for exploration drifts, crosscuts, sublevels, manways, and ventilation shafts. For service and ancillary systems, mine planners and engineers use GIS to find the lowest-cost path to route delivery of supplies to working areas, find the closest facility, establish which areas are within service range, assign proximity, model inaccessible areas, and model mine ventilation networks.

In production planning, GIS can help to site and query the location of service facilities relative to the main production centers. Are the orepass, drawpoints, ramps, shaft, winze, raises, haulways within a certain distance of production centers (stopes) and meeting production criteria? Are production stopes affected by unstable ground conditions, hazardous gas, refractory ore, etc. These publications give examples:

  • An Application of GIS in Underground Mining
  • Mining Gold in Montana with GIS and Underground Modeling (Virtual 3D model of Mayflower Mine)
  • A GIS based open-pit mine production scheduling system

MINING CLOSURE AND RECLAMATION

From the initial inventory of abandoned mine features through the closure of mines and mills, GIS systems are playing an increasing role in abandoned mine land reclamation. GPS data can be overlaid onto GIS maps to provide precise routes to, and locations of, abandoned mine sites. The GIS mapping allows rapid sizing and plotting of mine openings, waste piles and cultural features for accurate drawing and quantity computations during office design of the closures. Tied to coordinate systems, the maps are accurate with respect to orientation and provide precise information for the preparation of construction documents. The GIS database provides streamlined storage of all pertinent information regarding the mine features including location, access routes, photographs and tabular summaries of dimensions, land ownership and notes regarding each location. Three-dimensional views generated by the GIS system can be used to illustrate the pre- and post-reclamation design features. In the final phase of reclamation, the GIS systems can similarly be used to locate the site, monitor closure and provide as-built dimensions and documentation of closure within the database.

GIS software can be used to locate and store information on acid mine drainage issues. See these publications:


MINE TITLE APPLICATION

The Government of British Columbia in Canada uses GIS to enhance mineral title administration by adopting an e-commerce, GIS-based map selection system. Details are provided at: Fig 8 - airborne laser bathymetry 101 (Optech): Click to enlarge

By setting up a GIS database, government regulators and potential investors get a first-hand look at a particular location, its mining feasibility, and possible effects of the operations on the environment - resulting in a broader understanding of the project.

A useful website for potential mining investors or anyone looking to obtain information on geological or past mining operations is MINFILE. MINFILE contains geological, location and economic information on over 12,500 metallic, industrial mineral and coal mines, deposits and occurrences in B.C. The following lists some of the resources that can be found on the MINFILE website:


AERIAL VIEW

Fig 9 - airborne digital sensors: Click to enlarge
Google
In July 2005, Google launched Google Earth, a satellite imagery-based mapping product that combines 3D buildings and terrain with mapping capabilities, Google Search, and annotation. Dubbed as the Peoples GIS, anyone can download the software and start looking at 3D features of particular cities or countries, create map layers, or simply search for the best restaurants, tourist sites, or driving directions.
A free software download is available at http://earth.google.com.

MapsMine
Taking Google Earths platform on a higher level, MapsMine (a division of InfoMine) has the 3D 'Fly-In' Aerial Views of Mines and Properties graphic maps with terrains of particular mine sites can now be accessed from the database.

To obtain information on how to use MapsMine's 3D "Fly-In" features,
please see http://www.infomine.com/companies-properties/3d_view_announcement.asp

Also see MapsMine for other interesting or useful information on aerial photos, geological maps, geophysics/ airborne, satellite images, thematic maps, and topography.


WEBSITES

Here are some of the many websites that provide a plethora of data on GIS including case histories of the application of GIS at mines:
  • ESRI – GIS and Mapping Software is one of the most-user friendly GIS websites available-well laid out, easy to navigate, and replete with case studies covering exploration through operations, management, and closure of mines. Their primary purpose is to sell their software and they merit consideration based on what they provide on their website.
  • GISCafe.com has the feel of a genuine coffee house and café with pasteries and drinks, good company, news, advice, and gossip. Go to A good site forGIS interaction with peers. Here you will find discussion groups, resource listings, books reviewed and ranked, and the location of free software downloads.
  • Geocommunity says that it is “THE place for the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), CAD, Mapping, and Location-Based industry professionals, enthusiasts, and students to gather. The GeoCommunity is by far THE leading GIS online portal and daily publication reaching 37,000+ subscribers to our Daily SpatialNews NewsWire.” Need more be said?
  • GIS Development bills itself as the Geospatial Resource Portal.  I am not sure what that means, but the site has a neat layout with lots of accessible information including a directory of professionals in ten specializations, forty countries, and seven levels of expertise. They have a “comprehensive collection of papers from conferences around the world”, interviews, announcements, and GIS news.
  • GIS Portal lists jobs in GIS, and links to GIS data and software companies, colleges, universities, and research institutes, government services and other organizations. For links to the total world of GIS, this is your site.
  • GeoForum provides information on global positioning systems, GIS, and remote sensing.
  • The Australian Government – Geoscience Australia at http://www.ga.gov.au/ has free downloads, maps, database links, and more information than you could need on Australia’s GIS datasets and studies of every part of the large county. For those involved in mining, we recommend the link to the Australian Mines Atlas.
  • GIS.com is a broad-based website that gives viewers an overall view of GIS, its uses, and provides a list of job openings in the industry. This site allows users to download ArcGIS Explorer, a free GIS viewer that can be used to view and/or share GIS information.

CONSULTANTS

Here are some consultants who may help you if you choose to implement a GIS at your mine:
  • Daniel Elroi describes himself thus: My name is Daniel Elroi, and I have been implementing GIS systems for over a decade. I offer independent consulting, project management, and programming to a variety of clients. From $1,000 executive briefings to $1,000,000 software development and system implementation projects, I either provide the necessary skills or bring together the required team.
  • ACA Howe International is a UK based consulting firm that uses satellite imagery interpretation, geochemical analysis, geophysical data and topographical datasets for a wide range of applications for clients including exploration programs, 3D modeling, and cartographic solutions. This consulting firm has provided GIS services for clients all over the world.
  • Watts, Griffis and McOuat includes David G.Beggs who is described at www.wgm.on.ca as “a geologist with varied experience in geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and relational databases. He has designed, implemented and compiled GIS databases for mineral exploration and government projects in Canada and internationally. He has experience with developing countries, their needs and technologies, and the training of personnel to use new technologies. In recent years, he has worked extensively with RadarSAT and LandSAT TM satellite imagery for mineral exploration. His earlier experience includes GIS software development, digital cartography and publishing technology.”
  • Waterloo hydrogeologic offers their GIS and environmental Data Management Brochure as a free download.
  • Maxwell GeoServices is a data management consultancy and software development firm. They provide a structured process to transform data into information. Some of the other services they give to resource companies are capability outsourcing, ore body modelling, and software development. They also provide GIS training and consultancy services using MapInfo and Arcview. They state “Our knowledge and practical experience assists with the integration of geological, geochemical, geophysical and other special data into a GIS that is user friendly and cost effective.”

SUPPLIERS

There are many different suppliers of GIS products and systems throughout the world.

In North America, I have found ESRI (both the Canadian and US websites) to be one of the most comprehensive, informative sites to visit. ERSI provides tools to help manage all phases of mining, from discovery to production to closure and reclamation.

In South Africa, AFRIGIS offers a suite of software products to help facilitate quality, cost-effective solutions to clients.

Operating out of Chile, Geosoluciones makes a wide variety of GIS products and software to clients throughout South America.

TTI Production Earth Sciences & GIS provides 3D GIS interpretation and models to clients in Europe and around the world, as well as a full range of data processing software and GIS consulting services.


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