Geological and geotechnical characteristics of the tailings dams at Sierra Minera de Cartagena-La Unión (SE Spain)

R. Rodríguez, C. García, M. Zarroca, C. Roque, R. Linares, L. Oldecop

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4 Citations (Scopus)


We present the results of a geological and geotechnical characterization of the metallurgic waste from the Sierra Minera de Cartagena-La Union. We have studied eight tailings dams from which we collected and analysed 42 samples of metallurgic waste. We measured grain-size distribution, the specific gravity of solid particles, plasticity index, permeability, both in situ and in the laboratory, direct shear characteristics and moisture content. According to size distribution the tailings can be classified as sandy silt. Their plasticity index ranges from medium to nil. The internal friction angle varies between 28 and 42 degrees. Cohesion is between 0 and 2.2 t/m2. The specific gravity of the solid particles ranges widely from 1.8 to 4 g/cm3. The saturated hydraulic conductivity values vary between 1.3x 10-5 and 3.2x 10-9 m/s. The water content measured in situ shows that the degree of saturation remains relatively high despite low rainfall and high evaporation rates. Several tailings dams have failed. The leading causes of tailings-dam failure are: 1) slope instability; 2) overflow; 3) erosion; and 4) subsidence or collapse. The main factor leading to dam failure is that the tailings stored in the ponds are highly saturated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-144
JournalBoletin Geologico y Minero
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


  • Geological and geotechnical characteristics
  • Internal friction angle
  • Mining waste
  • Tailings dams
  • Tailings-dam failure


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