Aerial monitoring of atmospheric particulate matter produced by open-pit mining using low-cost airborne sensors

Zafra-Pérez, C. Boente, M. García-Díaz, J. A. Gómez-Galán, A. Sánchez de la Campa, J. D. de la Rosa

Mining is an economic activity that entails the production and displacement of significant amounts of atmospheric particulate matter (PM) during operations involving intense earthcrushing or earthmoving. As high concentrations of PM may have adverse effects on human health, it is necessary to monitor and control the fugitive emissions of this pollutant. This paper presents an innovative methodology for the online monitoring of PM10 concentrations in air using a low-cost sensor (LCS, <300 USD) onboard an unmanned aerial vehicle. After comprehensive calibration, the LCS was horizontally flown over seven different areas of the large Riotinto copper mine (Huelva, Spain) at different heights to study the PM10 distribution at different longitudes and altitudes. The flights covered areas of zero activity, intense mining, drilling, ore loading, waste discharge, open stockpiling, and mineral processing. In the zero-activity area, the resuspension of PM10 was very low, with a weak wind speed (3.6 m/s). In the intense-mining area, unhealthy concentrations of PM10 (>51 μgPM10/m3) could be released, and the PM10 can reach surrounding populations through long-distance transport driven by several processes being performed simultaneously. Strong dilution was also observed at high altitudes (> 50 m). Mean concentrations were found to be 22–89 μgPM10/m3, with peaks ranging from 86 to 284 μgPM10/m3. This study demonstrates the potential applicability of airborne LCSs in the high-resolution online monitoring of PM in mining, thus supporting environmental managers during decision-making against fugitive emissions in a cost-effective manner.