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Durham University

Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience

Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience

Internationally-recognised leaders in developing resilient, research-informed approaches to hazard and risk

We are a world-leading research institute in hazard, risk and resilience based at Durham University. We support innovative research and training for use in policy and practice, collaborating directly with communities, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments.

Our commitment is to work with and learn from the widest possible range of stakeholders living with hazard and risk – empowering people, fostering resilience, and improving lives, both now and in the future. Our success stems from our capacity to approach complex problems holistically, drawing together a transdisciplinary team of experts from across the physical sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.



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Advanced analysis of satellite data reveals ground deformation precursors to the Brumadinho Tailings Dam collapse paper

(14 January 2021)

DEI & IHRR researchers have co-authored a paper which has been published in the Nature stable of journals Communications Earth & Environment. 


Catastrophic failure of a tailings dam at an iron ore mine complex in Brumadinho, Brazil, on 25th January 2019 released 11.7 million m3 of tailings downstream. Although reportedly monitored using an array of geotechnical techniques, the collapse occurred without any apparent warning. It claimed more than 200 lives and caused considerable environmental damage. Here we present the Intermittent Small Baseline Subset (ISBAS) technique on satellite-based interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data to assess the course of events. We find that parts of the dam wall and tailings were experiencing deformation not consistent with consolidation settlement preceding the collapse. Furthermore, we show that the timing of the dam collapse would have been foreseeable based on this observed precursory deformation. We conclude that satellite-based monitoring techniques may help mitigate similar catastrophes in the future.

The full paper can be accessed here.