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Rotta, L. H. S., Alcantara, Park, E., Negri, R. G., Lin, Y. N., Bernardo, N., Mendes, T. S. G., & Souza, C. R. (2020). The 2019 Brumadinho tailings dam collapse: Possible cause and impacts of the worst human and environmental disaster in Brazil. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 90, Article 102119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jag.2020.102119
On 25th January 2019, the tailings dam of the Brumadinho iron mine operated by Vale S/A failed atastrophically. The death toll stood at 259 and 11 people remained missing as of January 2020. This tragedy occurred three years after Mariana’s tailings dam rupture – the most significant tailing dam disaster in Brazilian history. Thus far, a systematic investigation on the cause and effect of the failure has yet to be conducted. Here, we use satellite-driven soil moisture index, multispectral high-resolution imagery and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) products to assess pre-disaster scenarios and the direct causes of the tailings dam collapse. A decreasing trend in the moisture content at the surface and the full evanescence of pond water through time (2011–2019) suggest that the water was gradually penetrating the fill downwards and caused the seepage erosion, saturating the tailings dam. Large-scale slumping of the dam (extensional failure) upon the rupture indicates that the materials of the fill were already saturated. InSAR measurements reveal a dramatic, up to 30 cm subsidence in the dam (at the rear part) within the past 12 months before the dam collapse, signifying that the sediments had been removed from the fill. Although the information on the resistance level of the tailings dam to infiltrations is not available, these pieces of evidence collectively indicate that the seepage erosion (piping) is the primary cause for the chronic weakening of the structure and, hence, the internal “liquefaction” condition. Upon the collapse, the fully saturated mud tailings flowed down the gentle slope area (3.13×106m2), where 73 % were originally covered by tree, grass or agricultural tracts. The toxic mud eventually reached the Paraopeba River after travelling 10 km, abruptly increasing the suspended particulate matter (SPM) concentration and the toxic chemical elements in the river, immediately affecting the local livelihoods that depend on its water. The Paraopeba River is a major tributary of the San Francisco River, the second-longest river in Brazil reaching the Atlantic Ocean. We anticipate that the environmental repercussions of this toxic seepage will be felt throughout the entire basin, especially riverine communities located downstream.
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checked on Jun 14, 2021
checked on Jun 14, 2021
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