Assessment and development of erosion models for landform design at BHP legacy tailings storage facilities in Arizona, USA

N. Abramson, J. D. Pelletier, S. Ananthanarayan, S. Chataut, D. Ludwick

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


BHP has partnered with The University of Arizona (UA) and SRK Consulting, Inc. to better understand how certain reclaimed landforms in Arizona, USA maintain erosional stability post-closure while others require maintenance and repair on an annual basis to prevent rill and gully formation and subsequent exposure of underlying waste material. To give insight into the range in closure outcomes and provide the broader industry with state-of-the-art tools for future landform and cover design, we took a multi-step approach starting with a comprehensive evaluation of current models used in the mine reclamation community such as Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) and SIBERIA. We applied these commonly used models to three reclaimed sites in Arizona using site-specific calibration and validation data. Continuous monitoring of runoff and erosion at eight monitoring plots across the three reclaimed sites across plot sizes spanning from 250 m2-25, 000 m2, allows for site-specific calibration of the erosion models. These data were augmented by quantifying the erosion and deposition resulting from a single high-intensity rainfall event using repeat drone surveys. These novel monitoring techniques provide sediment flux and discharge measurements over seven orders of magnitude on hillslopes of up to 300 m in length. Through the evaluation of each model's ability to successfully reproduce erosional patterns, we have identified where each model falls short in its ability to be used as a predictive tool for future landform designs. To bridge these gaps, two new models have been developed by UA using a combination of site-specific and experimental datasets: Rillgen2D and RITCH (Rill-Interrill Transport and Conservation of mass optimised for Hillslopes). Rillgen2D is a reduced-complexity model that requires relatively limited input data and predicts a landform's potential erosional stability using inputs of topography, cover characteristics, and climate. RITCH is a landscape evolution model that is inspired by SIBERIA's governing equations, but which implements a piece-wise power-law relationship between sediment flux and discharge to model both rill and interrill erosion processes. The testing of both models is currently limited to semi-arid climates and cover materials with rock armour. We seek collaborations to test these models in a wider range of climates and cover materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1046
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the International Conference on Mine Closure
StatePublished - 2022
Event15th International Conference on Mine Closure, Mine Closure 2022 - Brisbane, Australia
Duration: Oct 4 2022Oct 6 2022


  • WEPP
  • erosion models
  • heap leach
  • landform and cover design
  • leach dump
  • mine closure
  • rilling
  • tailings dam

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Environmental Engineering


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