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| Earth on Apr 10, 2014

This date in science: Landslide at Bingham Canyon Mine

On April 10, 2013 – a year ago today – one of the largest non-volcanic landslides in the history of North America took place at the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah.

April 10, 2013. On this date – a year ago today – a towering wall of dirt and rocks gave way and crashed down the side of Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah. The landslide was to be one of the largest non-volcanic landslides in the history of North America. University of Utah researchers later reported that the landslide – which moved at an average of almost 70 mph and reached estimated speeds of at least 100 mph – left a deposit so large it would cover New York’s Central Park with about 20 meters (66 feet) of debris.

Click here to hear the low-frequency rumble from the Bingham Canyon Mine landslide, via University of Utah

Approximately 65 to 70 million cubic meters of debris were released during the Bingham Canyon Mine landslide in 2013. The rumble from the landslide was large enough to have been picked up by sensors that are normally used to detect earthquakes.

The April 10, 2013, landslide at Bingham Canyon mine contained enough debris to bury New York City’s Central Park 66 feet deep, according to a new University of Utah study. The slide happened in the form of two rock avalanches 95 minutes apart. The first rock avalanche included grayer bedrock material seen around the margins of the lower half of the slide. The second rock avalanche is orange in color, both from bedrock and from waste rock from mining. The landslide also triggered 16 small earthquakes. Photo by Kennecott Utah Copper, via University of Utah.

The April 10, 2013, landslide at Bingham Canyon mine contained enough debris to bury New York City’s Central Park 66 feet deep, according to a new University of Utah study. The slide happened in the form of two rock avalanches 95 minutes apart. The first rock avalanche included grayer bedrock material seen around the margins of the lower half of the slide. The second rock avalanche is orange in color, both from bedrock and from waste rock from mining. The landslide also triggered 16 small earthquakes. Photo by Kennecott Utah Copper, via University of Utah.

Amazingly, no one was hurt during the landslide, although several pieces of equipment were damaged beyond repair. An article posted to NASA Earth Observatory on June 13, 2013 noted that:

While the size of the slide was unexpected, the timing was not. The company that operates the mine had installed an interferometric radar system months before the event that made it possible to detect subtle changes in the stability of the pit’s walls. Signs of increasing strain prompted the mine’s operators to issue a press release seven hours before the collapse, with a warning that a landslide was imminent. All workers were evacuated and production had stopped before the landslide occurred; as a result, no one was injured.

The mine is approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide and 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) deep. It is reportedly one of only a few human-built structures that can be seen readily from space.

Bingham Canyon Mine before the landslide (July 20, 2011).  Image via NASA Earth Observatory.

NASA satellite image of Bingham Canyon Mine before the landslide (July 20, 2011). Image via NASA Earth Observatory.

Images of Bingham Canyon Mine before (July 20, 2011) and after (May 2, 2013) the large landslide. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA satellite image of Bingham Canyon Mine after the landslide (May 2, 2013). Image via NASA Earth Observatory.

Bingham Canyon, which is located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Salt Lake City, is one the largest copper producing mines in the United States. The copper from the mine is used in a variety of materials including electrical wiring, plumbing supplies and coins. The mine also produces significant amounts of gold, silver and molybdenum. Bingham Canyon Mine has been in operation since 1906, although ore extraction in this region began as early as 1863.

Bottom line: On April 10, 2013, one of the largest non-volcanic landslides in the history of North America took place at the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah.

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