Reporter 460, 4 December 2000

Sound test aims to save miners’ lives

How can a mining engineer know whether it is safe to carry on digging without risking a catastrophic cave-in?

Dr Lindsay Wade, of mining and mineral engineering, is developing software which uses sound to provide a reliable guide to seismic stresses in the pillars supporting mine roofs and in the rock around excavated areas. It could save hundreds of miners’ lives each year.

Dr Lindsay Wade, of Mining and Mineral Engineering, with PhD student Abdenour Hamis, inspecting test sample.

"The earth in its natural state has a stress régime governed by factors like continental drift and volcanic activity. When mining takes place, you change the stress fields and rock can then fracture and move over time," he said.

"Monitoring subtle changes in the stress field can give you forewarning that collapse may be imminent."

Using acoustic energy signals to the rock mass and measuring its behaviour at intervals, Dr Wade can detect changes in the amplitude or characteristic frequencies which will indicate where the rock has developed small (or large) discontinuities.

The technique – ideally incorporated in a hand-held device – will be ready for use in the field within a few years.

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