INNOVATION January-February 2014
f ea t ures
water used by downstream communities to irrigate crops and for do- mestic purposes, have not been affected. Jakob and his team’s findings were that Barrick’s Pascua-Lama mine would not be detrimental to any of the glaciers or glaciaretes in the area. “The initial concerns were rooted more in a lack of understanding of glacial dynamics and how they respond to long-term climate change,” he says. Today, a South American institution, the Centro de Estudios Cientificos, is monitoring various aspects of the glaciers and periglacial environments, and BGC’s role is to review the data and provide additional studies to close knowledge gaps. In an effort to ensure that good science is part of the process, BGC conducts courses for technical professionals and has presented to regional lawmakers to help answer their questions to these complex issues. The International Arena Pascua-Lama is not the only mine that has taken Jakob and his team abroad to carry out international risk analysis work. Jakob and Arenson travelled to Kyrgyzstan two years ago to assess the threat posed by a glacier’s moraine (an accumulation of debris such as soil and rock at the front or side of a glacier) and a lake that had formed from runoff. “Our study aimed to quan- tify possible lake outburst floods through the moraine and the potential downstream impacts,” he says. The possible risk was to
a downstream Canadian mining company Centerra Gold Inc.’s infrastructure, but through the risk assessment study supplied by BGC, the company as able to implement contingency plans at its Kumtor Mine property. The Impact of Climate Change Climate change is taking on a greater role in determining impact of projects and also hazard assessment, Jakob points out. Reduced snowfall and higher temperatures in many glacial areas may be leading to a reduced water supply in the long term, although faster melting glaciers can mean higher water supply in the short term. Or, in areas such as BC’s coast, “areas that are wet will become wet- ter, especially during winter,” says Jakob, who has authored a report on climate change. Hedberg agrees that there is no doubt that the topic of climate change is causing geoscientists to rethink how they address projects, whether changes are driven by regulatory requirements or professional standards. “If we are looking at a mine closure over a long period of time in the future, the scenarios presented by climate change are something that has to be considered,” he says. Even a modest change in temperature can make a difference if it involves an initial temperature that is near freezing. “If we have a frozen core dam, we have to consider whether the core will remain frozen over the long term,” he says. The long-term potential failure modes that geoscientists consider are espe- cially relevant to areas such as the Arctic regions, as mining or oil exploration continues into these more remote regions. Geoscientists worldwide are being asked to gauge how long- term temperature change will determine outcomes. It is again where accrued expertise derived both from BC’s long history of mining merges with knowledge gained internation- ally becomes useful. “That experience also provides additional expertise and leverage for our next projects,” says Hedberg, but the information is also shared in the engineering community. “If the client consents, we publish technical papers or speak at conferences on what we have learned. We run workshops and sit on review boards,” says Hedberg. “The findings from projects are one of the things that we give back.” From top: Typical landscape in the high and dry Andes of northern Argentina with light snow cover. Glaciarete in the high Andes of northern Argentina surrounded by periglacial environment.
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