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Walls of mud: Tailings dam cartograms

  • Written by  Benjamin Hennig
  • Published in Mapping
This map shows data from a list of the largest dam failures in recent history. The large circles visualise the total volume of substance released in the largest 20 disasters This map shows data from a list of the largest dam failures in recent history. The large circles visualise the total volume of substance released in the largest 20 disasters
22 Mar
2019
Following the collapse of the upstream tailings dam in Brumadinho, Brazil, Benjamin Hennig maps tailings dams around the world

Though a consistent assessment of the global inventory of tailings dams does not exist, sources such as the International Commission on Large Dams, an institution which maintains the World Register of Dams and which contains more than 58,000 entries, suggests there may be approximately 3,500 tailings dams worldwide. Information about dam failures (tailings and other) is even more fragmented. According to UN Environment statistics, the overall numbers of reported incidents rose steadily into the 1970s. According to the non-profit organisation World Mine Tailings Failures (WMTF), 42 tailings dam failures occurred between 2008 and 2017, resulting in 435 deaths.

WEbreplacecartogram

The global picture presented in the cartogram above relies on just one attempt to address this topic from an academic perspective. The cartogram shows each country proportional to the number of tailing dam incidents recorded in a database compiled from detailed search and re-evaluation of the known historical cases of tailings dam failure published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. The 147 cases of tailings dam disasters up to 2008 were combined with records from the past ten years to complete this worldwide picture. The map provides an insight into the spatial distribution of these large structures which, if they fail, constitute a significant environmental and economic hazard.

Benjamin Hennig (@geoviews) is Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Iceland and Honorary Research Associate in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is also involved in the Worldmapper project (Worldmapper.org).

This was published in the April 2019 edition of Geographical magazine

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