A study on geotechnical characterization and stability of downstream slope of a tailings dam to improve its storage capacity (Turkey)

Ozcan N. T., Ulusay R., IŞIK N. S.

ENVIRONMENTAL EARTH SCIENCES, vol.69, no.6, pp.1871-1890, 2013 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 69 Issue: 6
  • Publication Date: 2013
  • Doi Number: 10.1007/s12665-012-2016-1
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.1871-1890
  • Keywords: Tailings dam, Limit equilibrium methods, Numerical modelling, Slope stability, Geotechnical characterization, Permanent settlement
  • Gazi University Affiliated: Yes


Tailings, waste products of the ore-dressing processes, are usually stored in a slurry form and pumped into sedimentation pond which is surrounded by natural heights and/or artificial walls. The database of International Commission of Large Dams and United Nations Environment Programme showed that several hundreds of tailings dam have failed since 1910. One of the reasons of these failures is slope instability. Construction of mine tailings dams in Turkey has started to increase, particularly in the recent decade. This paper focuses the study undertaken to assess the geotechnical characteristics and stability of downstream slope of a tailings dam at a copper-zinc mine in the Black Sea Region of Turkey. At the mine site there are two tailings dams located at two different elevations. The upper dam was completely filled and is out of service. Increasing amount of tailings filling the pond of the lower dam resulted in a limited storage, and therefore, it has been decided that heightening of the dam about 7 m to improve its storage facility would be necessary. For the purpose, a series of investigations in the vicinity of the tailings dam and some geomechanical laboratory tests were carried in conjunction with the use of empirical methods to determine mechanical properties of the current dam material, tailings and the rockfill material that will be used for heightening of the dam. The results of the static and pseudo-static stability analyses based on the methods of limit equilibrium and numerical modelling indicated that circular and non-circular failures are the most critical modes of failure for the dam and safety factor gradually decreases when the tailings rise up to a specific elevation in the pond. However, the ranges of the calculated safety factors from both methods are considerably similar and suitable for heightening of the dam by 7 m in terms of stability. The results suggest that any instability is not expected under both static and dynamic conditions after the current height of the tailings dam is increased by 7 m, if the slope geometry considered in the analyses is not changed and the tailings in the pond do not rise up to an elevation of about 475 m. In addition, magnitude of permanent settlement of the dam due to a probable earthquake was also assessed using two empirical methods and the results from both methods showed similar amount of settlements which were in tolerable limits.