April 10, 2013. On this date – three years 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 one of the largest 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.
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.
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, 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.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.