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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Remote detection of the impact of mines on local landscapes : lessons for the low-carbon energy transition Huynh, Justin


The low-carbon energy transition is an essential feature of avoiding climate crisis, but it raises additional concerns due to the mineral extraction required to initiate such a large-scale technological shift. Among the many anticipated impacts, changes in land cover represent a significant threat which have flow-on implications including for Indigenous rights-holders. Land cover impacts were assessed through Geographic Information Science (GIS) and remote sensing methodologies. Previously, studies which have assessed mining impacts through GIS and remote sensing methods have been limited to the scale of one mine, limited to measuring impacts at one point in time, and/or limited in the reliability of how they predict the extent of future mining impacts. A novel methodology was developed which allowed for the assessment of land cover impacts for 77 mines in British Columbia using the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) as a metric for environmental degradation. Ten buffers were drawn around each mine in 1-kilometer intervals and the mean NDVI within each buffer was calculated from 1984-2022 using Landsat Best-Available-Pixel composites. T-tests and Kruskal-Wallis significance tests were run testing the relationship between NDVI and three parameters: distance from the mine, mine size, and primary commodity. The majority of parameters had no statistically significant impact on NDVI. However, significance was found in the case of copper mines and mine sizes between 24,000 and 140,000 tonnes up to a maximum distance of 4 km. BAP composites were inspected for five case studies to identify features which could impact the results of the NDVI analysis. The case studies revealed that non-mining disturbance such as harvest or forest fires and cloud cover can influence NDVI and be falsely attributed to mining through this methodology. The results of this study have indicated that the land cover impacts of mining may be limited to the extent of the mine from an areal perspective. Studies which aim to predict the future impacts of mining should exercise caution when choosing standard buffer distances that are much greater than 4km to estimate the potential area of influence of a mine.

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