Opportunities for ‘holes’ in the ground

When we consider the urban environment, I tend to look at all aspects around human activities. Shortly before I moved away from Australia to continue my research career full time in Switzerland, I had a lovely coffee catch up with my colleague at Monash University, A/Prof. Mohan Yellishetty, who is an expert in the field of mining and resources engineering. Fast forward to 2023, our little coffee catch up has allowed us to combine our expertise in mining, spatial analysis, urban planning and nature-based solutions and pursue an understudied area that hovers in the back of our heads: mining has been essential for driving many industries, providing critical resources and minerals for producing goods, services and technology.

But what do we do with our mines once activities have concluded? Many mines are left abandoned, literal ‘holes’ in the ground or subterranean networks of caves and shafts. Much of the work is still in the process of being published. However, as we kicked off things with an understanding of Australia’s ridiculous number of abandoned occurrences in a first paper looking at classifying these, we knew we needed to continue pursuing this topic as there exists numerous ‘golden’ opportunities to transform these abandoned mines and quarries into valuable assets for humans and nature. Since then, we have been adopting more quantitative and qualitative approaches, using our knowledge around geospatial analysis and understanding stakeholder perspectives around the rehabilitation and repurposing process. Stay tuned for these nuggets of research coming out in the near future.

We recently published an article in The Conversation, outlining possible opportunities that exist. People, who know me, know that I always highlight the need to be strategic about the decisions we make about any project or risk a ‘patchwork’ approach of many new ‘shiny objects’ and a subsequent asset management nightmare. Not to mention, this ‘nightmare’ in the mining context will come with a much greater economic burden.

So, where to next? I interviewed Mohan in Episode 17 of my podcast. He has a remarkable vision, filled with opportunities for rehabilitation and repurposing of such mines. To operationalize this, we are continuing to explore these opportunities together with a range of talented undergraduate and postgraduate students.

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