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Posted on January 6th, 2015

Our Changing Landscape – Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 5 billion square kilometers of data. This month, we look at changes in one of the largest open pit mines in the world, Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah.

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers daily revisits to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a starting cost of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over the northern edge of Bingham Canyon Mine on July 1, 2010, August 14, 2012 and July 19, 2014. In this animated series, you can see significant changes along the mine walls and the supporting infrastructure in the two active zones at the graphics’ center. (Images Courtesy: RapidEye)

In 1848, two cattle ranchers, Sanford and Thomas Bingham, discovered copper ore on the ground of their family’s lands located some 25 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah. And this rather innocent discovery led to the opening of the world’s deepest mine in 1906 which is now 2.75 miles across and 0.75 miles down. Bingham Canyon Mine is also the world’s highest-yielding copper mine, producing more than 19 million tons in its 100+ year history. And the mine produces more than just copper as some 400,000 ounces of gold, 4 million ounces of silver, 30 million pounds of molybdenum and 1 million tons of sulfuric acid are extracted annually.

In the mid-2000’s, with a rise in copper prices, the current owners of the site, Rio Tinto, decided to open an underground mine which will produce enough ore to cover 24 blocks of midtown Manhattan. Rio Tinto also plans to expand the open pit mine by pushing back its south wall some 1,000 feet and digging down 300 feet to extract 700 million tons of additional copper ore. Mining on this scale is not without its hazards as an April 11, 2013 landslide attests to. In this disaster, some 165 million tons of rock tumbled over itself, causing a localized earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale which damaged infrastructure and mining equipment.

Before closing this Our Changing Landscape, here are some statistics that will help give you a sense of the scale of the massive mining operation at Bingham Canyon:

  • Each day, some 450,000 tons of rock are taken out of the mine.
  • 1,200 pounds of explosives are put into holes 55 feet deep to break up rocks and expose copper ore.
  • This single mine produces about 17% of the US’ copper needs and 1% of the world’s each year.
  • The April 2013 landslide was estimated to cut Rio Tinto’s yearly profits by 7%.
  • The metals extracted from Bingham Canyon are valued at approximately $1.8 billion per year.
  • If the open pit mine at Bingham were a stadium, it would hold more than 9 million people.
  • Stacking two Willis Towers (formerly Chicago’s Sears Tower) end to end would still not reach the top of the mine.
  • It would take more than 38 professional soccer pitches laid end-to-end to span the entire mine.

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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