Minerals surveyors, also known as mining surveyors, compile, interpret and manage data which is used in all stages of a mine’s development from initial prospecting and exploitation through to restoration of land at the end of the site’s working life. They work on surface sites - quarries and open-cast, and underground systems - mines, tunnels and storage facilities. They also work at sea in oil and gas exploration.
There are several aspects to the work:
Feasibility studies – exploratory surveys are carried out on a potential site to determine the location and characteristics of mineral deposits, and the surrounding geology. From this, an assessment of the economic viability of exploitation is made. Environmental impact assessments are also carried out.
Mining and mineral rights – surveyors research records to establish the legal position around site ownership, boundaries, access and extraction rights. They consult with land owners and local authorities in preparation for planning applications. They also draw up valuations of sites and deposits as a basis for contract negotiations to buy or lease the site.
Site surveying - using a variety of equipment and techniques, precise 3-D models of the site are constructed. Methods include: aerial photogrammetry – 3-D digital imaging; laser stope (cavity) surveying; tracking progress of tunnelling with gyrotheodolites; geodetics – charting and mapping surface areas using satellite global positioning systems (GPS). Surveyors play an important role in the management and interpretation of this data.
Deposit surveying – geological and geophysical surveys are carried out. Bore holes are drilled into the rock and samples taken. Test results are analysed and interpreted using computer modelling and form the basis of mine design and extraction plans.
Mine cartography – surveyors use geographic information systems (GIS) to produce thematic maps of the site area, detailing mine infrastructure, deposit layers, and extent and type of contaminants present. These maps are referred to throughout the mine's development.
Geomechanics – surveyors investigate rock structures, calculate pressures between strata and monitor ground movements to identify potential hazards and instabilities. They use this data to make ongoing risk assessments of mine workings.
Site reclamation - once a mine is exhausted, surveyors, working closely with engineers and planners, draw up strategies for the reinstatement of the original habitat or for the area to be turned over to leisure, industrial or commercial development. This work may include the decontamination of affected areas.
Other duties include managing the surveying team, working with mine engineers and managers in the day-to-day operation of the site and attending meetings with contractors and clients. See the profile for Engineer: Quarry/Mining/Mineral.
Minerals surveyors work 35 to 40 hours a week. Early starts, late finishes and weekend work may be required, depending on deadlines. The work is mainly office based, either at the company office or on site.
Underground working can be noisy, dirty and damp and may involve working in cramped conditions. Surface sites are subject to all weather conditions. Safety regulations in mine workings must be strictly observed so protective clothing and equipment is used when required.
To be a mining and minerals engineer, you should:
This particular field of surveying is relatively small in the UK but the outlook points to modest growth over the next few years. Employers include private coal mining and quarrying companies, mineral estate owners, HM Customs and Revenue’s Mineral Valuations Office, large corporations and local authorities. Some surveyors work as consultants, surveying and managing mineral estates on behalf of small mining companies or large landowners.
National and European directives covering waste and pollution management, and recycling are likely to increase the scope for working in areas, such as wastes management, pollution control and land remediation (restoration after mine workings cease). Related fields such as research and development in surveying instrumentation and technology may also offer openings.
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