Editor’s note: The Geology and Mining series, edited by Dan Wood and Jeffrey Hedenquist, is designed to introduce early-career professionals and students to a variety of topics in mineral exploration, development, and mining, in order to provide insight into the many ways in which geoscientists contribute to the mineral industry.


The rock mass response to mining is governed by the rock mass characteristics and the mining-induced changes that drive its behavior. To be able to study and accurately predict the response of the rock mass to mining, it is imperative that both the orebody and the enclosing country rocks are well characterized through the collection and analysis of large quantities of good-quality, representative geologic, structural, geotechnical, and hydrogeological data. These are the fundamental constituents of a good geotechnical model whose reliability improves as the mining project matures and moves from exploration and study phases, passes the decision to develop, and proceeds into construction and then operations. Each phase provides greater exposure to the rock mass, reduces uncertainty, and increases reliability in the geotechnical model and in an understanding of the rock mass behavior. The quest of the geotechnical engineer is to understand the rock mass behavior and is no different from that of the geologist who defines the mineral resource, and it warrants (at the very least) the same level of rigor in data collection, analysis, and reporting. Just as the geologist continues to improve the orebody model through grade reconciliation during mining, so the geotechnical engineer must continually revisit and calibrate the geotechnical model during the operational phase of mining through geotechnical monitoring. The increasing demand by investors and stakeholders that the performance of a mine does not deviate from plan due to unforeseen geotechnical surprises warrants a significant shift in the level of geotechnical data collection, analyses, and rock mass monitoring through all stages of study and operations. This demand warrants supporting budgets and assurance processes that are commensurate with the complexity and extent of the geotechnical uncertainties.

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