Geomorphological Mapping and Erosion of Abandoned Tailings in the Hiendelaencina Mining District (Spain) from Aerial Imagery and LiDAR Data

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The Hiendelaencina district in Spain was the most important silver producer in Europe during 1844–1925. At the end of the 20th century, with mines having closed, some waste rock dumps were reprocessed, and the sludge from the flotation process was stored in two tailings ponds. When this activity ceased, the residues began to be eroded and disperse. In this study, the state of degradation of both deposits was evaluated using historical mapping and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data, incorporated into a Geographic Information System. In the aerial images (1946–2018), mine tailings and their main erosive and sedimentary forms were mapped. Geoforms linked to hydrological (channels, gullies, alluvial cones), wind (eolian mantles), hydric–gravitational (colluvium) and anthropic (motorbike tracks) processes which move sludge into the surrounding areas were identified. A net loss of 8849 m3 of sludge, a release of 10.3 t of potentially polluting substances and a high erosion rate of 346 t/ha*year were calculated based on LiDAR data from 2009 and 2014. The ponds show a current high degree of erosion that could increase due to both human activity and the growing frequency of drought and torrential rain periods if stabilization measures are not undertaken.