Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to assess the rehabilitation performance of open cut coal mines

Kasper Johansen, Peter D. Erskine, Matthew McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Mine sites are routinely required to rehabilitate their post-mining landforms with a safe, stable and sustainable land-cover. To assess these post-mining landforms, traditional on-ground field monitoring is generally undertaken. However, these labour intensive and time-consuming measurements are generally insufficient to catalogue land rehabilitation efforts across the large scales typical of mining sites (>100 ha). As an alternative, information derived from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) can be used to map rehabilitation success and provide evidence of achieving rehabilitation site requirements across a range of scales. UAV based sensors have the capacity to collect information on rehabilitation sites with extensive spatial coverage in a repeatable, flexible and cost-effective manner. Here, we present an approach to automatically map indicators of safety, stability and sustainability of rehabilitation efforts, and demonstrate this framework across three coalmine sites. Using multi-spectral UAV imagery together with geographic object-based image analysis, an empirical classification system is proposed to convert these indicators into a status category based on a number of criteria related to land-cover, landform, erosion, and vegetation structure. For this study, these criteria include: mapping tall trees (Eucalyptus species); vegetation extent; senescent vegetation; extent of bare ground; and steep slopes. Converting these land-cover indicators into appropriate mapping categories on a polygon basis indicated the level of rehabilitation success and how these varied across sites and age of the rehabilitation activity. This work presents a framework and workflow for undertaking a UAV based assessment of safety, stability and sustainability of mine rehabilitation and also provides a set of recommendations for future rehabilitation assessment efforts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-833
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - Oct 29 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Andrew Fletcher for help to develop this project and for collecting and processing UAV imagery. The Australian Coal Industry's Research Program (ACARP) monitors helped us develop site specific criteria and access sites and data. Funding to undertake this work was provided by ACARP through their support of Project C24031.


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