3 December 2019
Planet Labs images of the huge new landslide at Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan
On 1 December 2019 a very large mining-related landslide occurred in a waste pile at the Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan. Concerns have been raised previously about the large landslides occurring at this site, and indeed I wrote a blog post in September about these risks.
The new landslide at Kumtor occurred at 5:43 am on 1 December. Sadly, two workers appear to have been killed, although search parties have yet to find them. Early reports suggest that the landslide was about 12 million cubic metres, although this remains uncertain.
Planet Labs have captured high quality before and after images of the site, which is located at 41.90, 78.18. This is the site on 29 November, prior to the failure:-
The aftermath of the landslide is captured on an image from 1 December 2019, just a few hours after the failure:-
The images show that the landslide was very large – the length appears to be about 2 km and the width is about 500 m, possibly more in the lower parts. The failure appears to have started in recently tipped materials close to the bottom of the images. The 29 November 2019 satellite image shows vehicles in this area. The rear scarp of the landslide is in partial shadow, but can be seen in the image of 1 December.
A hint of what might have happened at Kumtor Mine is shown in this sequence of Planet Labs images from the last few weeks, taken on 8, 20 and 29 November 2019:-
The images appear to show a new area of active tipping in early November, which expanded rapidly through the month. The image of 29 November appears to show the development of a large failure in the area that developed into the full landslide ultimately. The debris appears to be loading the next bench down.
It is not possible to say whether this is the start of the events that ended so tragically on 1 December, but I strongly suspect that this is the case. If so, I wonder if this was detected at the time, and how the risk was being managed?
Planet Team (2019). Planet Application Program Interface: In Space for Life on Earth. San Francisco, CA. https://www.planet.com/