Introducing our first ever Content Lead: Nikita Marwaha Kraetzig

We’re so pleased to announce that we have welcomed Nikita Marwaha Kraetzig as Geoawesomeness’ first ever Content Lead. 

We started Geoawesomeness back in 2011 with the vision of building a geospatial knowledge community connecting people, companies and ideas. Fast forward 12 years and we’ve grown into a thriving community of people and organisations making positive change in the world through the use of location technology. Nikita joined us this week to strengthen our content efforts as we go forward and we sat down with her to hear more.

Q: Welcome, Nikita! We’re so happy to have you in the team. Could you tell us a little more about your career so far?

A: It’s great to be here! My career has spanned multiple countries, industries and roles. I’ve described light displays on Saturn at the European Southern Observatory in Munich, personified spacecraft for ESA’s Rosetta mission in the Netherlands, promoted mental health at the NHS in the UK and launched Berlin-based UP42 – geospatial platform and marketplace. 

Most recently, I’ve amplified the voices of green technology innovators while at environmental PR agency, Greenhouse Communications, in London and taken intentional pause to focus on parenting—very much a job in itself!

While my career is very varied, the common thread that unifies each and every place I’ve chosen to work at is purpose. Although this can be quite challenging at larger organisations, what motivates me the most is bringing social and environmental consciousness to the forefront. In order to progress as a society, I think this needs to go hand in hand with the definition of business as usual. B Corps are a great example of using business as a force for good!

Q: What makes Geoawesomeness somewhere with the purpose-driven projects you enjoy working on?

A: I think that more than ever before, the world around us needs location data in order to effectively solve big challenges such as global temperature rises, extreme weather conditions, ocean acidification, deforestation and much more. The team at Geoawesomeness have worked hard for years to be a force for good. They’ve spotlighted purpose-driven stories such as leveraging satellite data to detect and monitor oil spills, deforestation-free products and the role of Earth Observation or satellite-derived bathymetry enabling coastal monitoring and protection

Leading Geoawesomeness’ content efforts, I’ll be able to contribute towards and expand on this purpose-driven storytelling and community building. I really look forward to finding the people, companies and ideas out there that are making a tangible difference—and give them a platform to share their stories and products with others. 

Q: What’s one of your favourite things about Geoawesomeness?

A: One of my favourite things about Geoawesomeness is that they are committed to ensuring that the community they are building is both inclusive and open. This means inclusivity in terms of who’s part of the community, as well as ensuring access to data and knowledge is open to everyone. 

While everyone around the world feels the effects of the climate crisis, a UN report in 2022 revealed why women often experience the impacts of climate change differently than men, while playing a critical role in responding to climate change. This, in conjunction with the importance of ensuring location data is reflective of the society we live in—with the mapping community still overwhelmingly male—are big drivers for why I really want to make a difference at Geoawesomeness. 

I worked on a Reuters article, Visible women: Female mappers bridge the data gap in urban design, with Geochica’s co-founder, Miriam Gonzalez during my time at UP42. In it, Yeliz Osman, a gender violence expert at UN Women says “when women map, they are more likely than men to represent women-specific needs and priorities, which is key to driving changes in local policies, plans and budgets.”

I like that Geoawesomeness works with several initiatives including Sisters of SAR, Ladies of Landsat and Women in Geospatial+ to build a community for everybody and ensure data is as unbiased and representative as possible.

Q: What are your hopes for your time at Geoawesomeness over the coming year?

A: I’d like to help Geoawesomeness communicate the brilliant work their community does. Geoawesomeness wouldn’t be so geoawesome (I had to do it!), without industry professionals, developers, experts and students around the world reading stories, attending events and writing articles. 

I see the site continuing to be the go-to source of answers for anyone with ‘where’ questions. I’ll work on telling more of the stories you want to read, fostering a supportive community and leading the team in being a socially and environmentally responsible media organisation.

On a personal note, I find it’s hard to turn on the news these days or scroll through my feed without feeling as though the world is on fire. Climate anxiety is very real. While location technology can provide value to lots more use cases besides the environment, it’s impossible to ignore the alarming need for action. To tackle climate anxiety, I think it’s important that we read climate success stories and examples of what is being done, as well as what isn’t. Instilling optimism and inspiring change in the community would be another of my hopes for the coming year.

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How Mining Companies are using Satellite Data for ESG and Operational Efficiency

The mining industry today faces a host of complex challenges, with increasing pressure to meet Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards. Given the vast size and inaccessible nature of commercial mines, the main obstacle to meeting those challenges is often the difficulty in data collection and analysis.

Satellites are emerging as a promising solution. With very-high resolution imagery and a host of cutting-edge analysis tools, there is now the potential for satellite data to be used throughout the entire mining cycle, enhancing safety, sustainability, and efficiency.

A revolution in data collection

As the mining industry has evolved, traditional data collection methods have become insufficient. Commercial mines are often enormous, spread across sites as large as 50–100km2, situated in unforgiving environments and in regions where the skills and technologies required to carry out detailed data collection are lacking. As a result, the modern mining sector has embraced several complementary data collection tools in recent years.

UAV technology plays a vital role, albeit primarily at a localized level. Drones are particularly useful for capturing detailed measurements and engineering purposes, to calculate stockpile volume, or assess rock faces following controlled blasts. Remote IoT sensors are another important tool in today’s commercial mine, but although they are appropriate for some data points, they can’t fulfil all requirements. For comprehensive, full site surveying, a different solution is needed—and this is where satellites come in.

Image from Airbus Stack Insight

A new generation of satellite data and analysis

A proliferation of new satellite constellations and technological innovations mean that satellite data is more affordable, more available, and more versatile than ever before. High-resolution 30cm satellite imagery, from Pléiades Neo for example, can provide incredibly detailed data over even the largest of mining sites, overcoming the main limitation of drone technology. Satellite data platforms like Airbus OneAtlas, meanwhile, allow for on-demand satellite tasking, which means mining companies can obtain high-resolution data in near real-time, while frequent revisits enable regular monitoring—essential for safety requirements.

However, it’s not just the quality and quantity of the imagery itself that has brought about this seismic change in satellite data, but the sophistication of the analysis tools and elevation models available. For instance, a relatively new product from Airbus named ‘Elevation 0.5’ utilizes stereo or tristereo imagery data from Pléiades Neo to create 50cm resolution, Digital Surface Models with industry-leading accuracy.

An interesting case study of Airbus data usage comes from a South African firm named Pinkmatter. They have leveraged Airbus’s stereo and tristereo imagery data to create a tool called ‘Stack Insight’, This tool simplifies the task of measuring volumes for heaps of excavated material or extracted earth. One notable client of this service is AngloAmerican, who use it at their mine site, Kumba Iron Ore, in South Africa.

Game-changing benefits for both operational needs and ESG responsibilities

With such powerful tools at their fingertips, no wonder major companies are beginning to embrace remote sensing and earth observation data in monitoring their mining operations. This graphic summarizes some of the key use cases:

Source: Airbus, Pinkmatter

Three areas worth focusing on are sustainability, safety, and exploration.

·       Sustainability

ESG aspects are becoming increasingly relevant to the mining sector, as both regulators and the public demand greater sustainability. By its very nature, mining causes significant damage to the natural world, but there are numerous ways in which satellite data can help to mitigate environmental impact at every stage of the mining cycle.

This starts with the process of locating, designing, and building the pit and mine buildings, where satellite imagery can aid in finding the least environmentally damaging locations for any necessary structures. Satellites can then monitor the impact of mining activity over time, detecting potential environmental risks through wastewater monitoring and vegetation change detection. Finally, satellite data can be used to help with rehabilitation and restoration of natural habitat, ensuring that any environmental commitments are met.

One of the most significant environmental issues for the industry is the management of ‘tailings’—the waste materials left over from mining operations. Tailings are often stored in ponds, and these tailings storage facilities (TSF) must be closely monitored to prevent environmental contamination. Using a combination of SAR and optical data, satellites can aid with planning a TSF site, monitor capacity and surface water, and help to mitigate risk of contamination due to adverse weather conditions or illegal activities. Freeport-McMoRan is just one mining firm using satellite data in combination with other data sources to achieve its stated target of zero ‘unplanned discharges’ from TSF sites.

Optical image of surface water on a TSF and reclamation pond showing change in observable surface water (https://www.africanmining.co.za/2021/07/07/monitoring-tailings-dams)

·       Safety

ESG goals are not just about environmental impacts, but also about safety and social responsibility. Mining has long been one of the most dangerous industries in the world, and although positive progress has been made, more people are still killed or injured in the mining sector than in any other industry, according to The World Counts.

By providing regular, high-resolution imagery over vast areas, satellite data can make a massive contribution to safety assessments and monitoring. Facilities can be monitored both day and night, and regardless of weather conditions—critical in ensuring the safety of personnel and avoiding accidents or disasters. And of course, by replacing traditional monitoring with remote monitoring, mining firms can eliminate the need for human staff to travel around potentially dangerous mine sites and TSFs.

One of the most important constellations in this field is TerraSAR-X / TanDEM-X project, twin satellites flying in close formation, which together are able to obtain unparalleled geometric accuracy from bistatic SAR interferometry data. Their on-board sensors can measure deformation of the land surface down to a level of millimetres, monitoring ground displacement, subsidence, uplift, and horizontal surface movement, thereby providing early detection of potential landslides and other risks.

The TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites in formation flight [image credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]

·       Exploration

Satellite data is also a powerful tool when it comes to mineral exploration, increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and providing a more comprehensive overview compared to traditional on-the-ground surveys. High-resolution satellite imagery can be used to create a visual representation of potential mining areas, and can also reveal patterns and features that may not be visible from the ground—a technique which has been successfully employed in kimberlite diamond exploration in India and South Africa.

Using multispectral and hyperspectral imagery, satellites can also reveal important details about the earth’s surface and geological features—perhaps even indicating the presence of specific minerals deep underground. Although this technology is in its infancy, it holds huge potential, and one mining company hoping to take advantage is Rio Tinto, who have recently partnered with satellite imaging startup Pixxel for early access to data from a new constellation.

With advanced analysis tools, satellite imagery can be leveraged further to provide information on surface lithology, soil types, and vegetation cover, which can all help to guide the decision-making process in the early stages of mineral exploration.

Pléiades Neo image of Chuquicamata Mine, Chile, source: Airbus

Digging into the future

High-resolution, time-sensitive satellite data looks set to play a key role in the future of the mining industry, not only enhancing and improving operations, but also contributing to broader ESG objectives.

As the sector looks to reduce its environmental impact and improve safety, two major developments are likely to ease the process. The first is the rapid progression in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which holds the potential to automate and improve satellite data analysis. In turn, this will lead to actionable insights being produced faster, and with greater accuracy. The second is the surge in availability and affordability of high-resolution satellite data. Until recently, advanced data collection and analysis tools have been the reserve of industry giants, but the democratisation of satellite data means that smaller mining companies are now able to reap the benefits of the technology.

Challenges remain when it comes to the integration of earth observation data into the mining industry. The sector may be eager to embrace advanced technology, but it has a long way to go before the relevant skills and infrastructure are in place to support it. However, overcoming these hurdles is a necessity if mining is to balance operational needs with its environmental and social responsibilities. High-resolution satellite data has the potential to become an indispensable tool, arming the industry with the means to ensure a safer, more efficient, and sustainable future.

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