April 10, 2013. On this date – six 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 later described by scientists as:
… probably the biggest nonvolcanic slide in North America’s modern history.
It happened in the form of two huge rock avalanches at 9:30 p.m. and 11:05 p.m. MDT at Rio Tinto-Kennecott Utah Copper’s open-pit Bingham Canyon Mine, which is located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Salt Lake City. This 107-year-old mine produces 25 percent of the copper used in the United States. Each rock avalanche lasted about 90 seconds.
University of Utah researchers later reported the landslide moved at an average of almost 70 mph (113 kph) and reached estimated speeds of at least 100 mph (160 kph). Nearly 100 million cubic yards (70 million cubic meters) of debris were released during the slide, enough debris to bury New York City’s Central Park 66 feet (20 meters) deep. The landslide triggered 16 small earthquakes. And the rumble from the landslide itself was large enough to be recorded on earthquake detectors.
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 2.5 miles (4 km) wide and 3,900 feet (1,200 meters) deep. It is reportedly one of only a few human-built structures that can be seen readily from space.
Bingham Canyon 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 – six years ago today – an enormous landslide took place at the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah. Amazingly, no one was hurt.
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.