It was this problem, combined with a funding opportunity from the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) that resulted in a conversation here at HR Wallingford between my dams, breach, flood and machine learning colleagues about how we could use satellite technology to stop tailings dam disasters happening. The results of this thought experiment was our tool – DAm Monitoring from SATellites (DAMSAT). The project was developed by an HR Wallingford-led consortium, and launched as a pilot in Peru in 2018 – months before the Brumadinho disaster. Funding was then extended to include water dams in the country’s Pasco region.
The space sector has opened up new areas of opportunity to address environmental and social challenges using Earth Observation (EO) technology. Data alone, though, isn’t enough. You need to really understand the data and what it means, before you can turn it into useful knowledge. Our aim was to bring together some quite well understood technologies in one place, from an engineering, rather than a data-seller point of view. To this end, we brought together not only EO specialists, but civil engineers, owners, regulators and IT experts.
Our own expertise in EO, dam safety, and flood risk modelling has enabled us to develop a system that provides continuous, remote monitoring of dams, with automatic alerts generated if anything untoward happens. DAMSAT offers a practical solution which can be seamlessly integrated with existing on-site systems, typically movement sensors, and piezometers which measure pressure of fluids. Working with so many different disciplines has been challenging, but as a result we believe we’ve built a better system.