Aerial view of a large tailings storage pond

Intelligent dam safety monitoring

DAMSAT harnesses satellite technology to remotely monitor water and tailings dams. The system helps to reduce the risk of failure of these structures and the consequent risk to population and damage to ecosystems downstream upon which many vulnerable communities rely for both their source of water and livelihoods.

The challenge

Dam safety is rightly a priority for owners, the public and for governments. Catastrophic failures can devastate communities downstream of a dam, causing loss of life and long term damage to the ecosystems people rely on for their water and their livelihoods.

To reduce the risk of these structures failing, and to reduce the consequent risk to the population, dams need to be continuously monitored using routine inspections and safety reviews.

HR Wallingford’s DAMSAT system uses satellite technology to remotely monitor water and tailings dams and other tailings storage facilities. DAMSAT provides regular, accurate intelligence to support remote monitoring of water and tailings dams. DAMSAT is a “one stop” solution, and we tailor it to the needs of our end users.

Comprehensive dam safety intelligence

Monitor the present
Receive warnings when abnormal behaviour such as movement, potential leakages or severe weather conditions occur.

Analyse the past
Compare current and past satellite images to detect changes on site; analyse historical evidence, such as weather and rainfall records, to identify the causes.

Predict the future
Forecast the impact of heavy rainfall, and assess the impact of failure downstream of the dam.

DAMSAT is a one stop solution for water and tailings dam safety.

How does DAMSAT work?

Every dam has its own pattern of behaviour, which includes: expanding and contracting; greening and browning; slowly settling; and steady seepage, so DAMSAT warns users about departures from these. It also compares current and past satellite images to detect changes on site, allowing interrogation of historical evidence. Using weather forecasts, DAMSAT also assesses how heavy rainfall will impact the water level in the reservoir, and the subsequent load on the dam and its ancillary structures.

The system uses a combination of Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), to monitor movement. It also uses several wavelengths of optical satellite data to monitor leakage and pollution indicators, and integrates ten-day advanced satellite weather forecasts from either the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the European Centre for Medium range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) twinned with hydrometeorological models to predict water level changes in advance.

Usefully, DAMSAT also displays information about the possible impacts downstream if there is a dam breach using cutting-edge numerical models, EMBREA and the Life Safety Model. EMBREA is a breach model that simulates complex modern dams, and the Life Safety Model helps with the development of emergency plans by assessing the risks to people and evacuation times for various scenarios. In fact, the Life Safety Model represents the behaviour of each individual person, vehicle and building and their interactions with the floodwater and mud.

Alongside its EO and modelling components, DAMSAT is able to add in situ sensors, or complement existing ones, to allow real-time measurement and for independent calibration and validation of measurements from the EO datasets.

All this information is then integrated into a cloud-based platform which generates alerts for behavioural changes or unusual weather conditions that could cause infrastructure failure. And DAMSAT is not a one-size-fits all solution, but rather is made up of a number of modules that can be selected to best suit the particular dam and the users’ needs. This may mean incorporation of historical monitoring device data streams, higher or lower resolution data, general surveillance of the dam or more targeted monitoring of an existing area of concern.

DAMSAT development

DAMSAT harnesses HR Wallingford’s expertise in dam safety, flood risk modelling and Earth observation technologies. As trusted partners, we deliver bespoke DAMSAT solutions tailored to our clients’ unique needs, and continue to invest in the ongoing system enhancements.

The initial development of DAMSAT was funded by the UK Space Agency under the International Partnership Programme (IPP). The programme aims to use space solutions to make a positive and practical impact on the lives of those living in emerging and developing economies. IPP is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, a fund from the UK Government which supports cutting-edge research and innovation strengths to deliver sustainable economic or societal benefits to emerging and developing countries around the world.