Technology

Uncharted Territory: Going Digital to Keep Track of Mines

Four years ago, nine miners accidentally tunneled into a flooded mine in Pennsylvania that wasn't on any map. It took three days to rescue them, and the accident at Quecreek Mine was a wake-up call to the state's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. The mining community it serves obviously needed a comprehensive, digital map that would chart the thousands of mines, active and closed, in the state.
by | May 2006

Four years ago, nine miners accidentally tunneled into a flooded mine in Pennsylvania that wasn't on any map. It took three days to rescue them, and the accident at Quecreek Mine was a wake-up call to the state's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. The mining community it serves obviously needed a comprehensive, digital map that would chart the thousands of mines, active and closed, in the state.

Problem number one was finding a camera big enough to handle the digital side of the job and the staffing to do it. The solution is a partnership with the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which houses a huge camera that was purchased with a million-dollar federal grant. The librarian, staff and students at the university are on board to meld disparate charts the state government collects into one map that can be posted on a Web site.

As to the bits and pieces that will make up the comprehensive map, four mine offices around the state are contributing their maps, but there are many others out there. "We began finding mine maps in the most amazing places," says Tom Rathbun, a spokesman for the office of Mineral Resources Management. "Deep in the bowels of college libraries and local historical societies and in attics, basements and libraries everywhere."

Having the maps online will help mining companies figure out where they can mine and where they can't. Local planning commissions can see whether a housing development or school is being planned on top of an abandoned mine. The map can also protect towns that might be in danger from nearby mines. And keep miners out of unmapped dangers.

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