Tailings Engineering: insights from Dr Henry Munoz

Tailings Dam in Queensland
Tailings Dam in Queensland

For more than 15 years, Associate Geotechnical Engineer Henry Munoz has been working across the globe researching, teaching, and working as a Geotechnical Earthquake Engineer.  Now specialising as a Tailings Dam Engineer, Henry explains the intricacies of his work which draws on his multidiscipline expertise and the unique technical community from around the world that he works with at Tetra Tech.   

Tell us about your role at Tetra Tech Coffey?

I am Associate Geotechnical Engineer at Tetra Tech Coffey in Brisbane, having joined in 2021. My expertise has been gained through a combination of research, teaching, and working as a Geotechnical-Earthquake Engineer. I have lead research projects at the University of Tokyo and have collaborated within multidisciplinary civil and mining engineering teams for projects located in countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Fiji, Peru, Brazil, and Japan.

My focus of study has predominately been on geomaterial behaviour, seismic stability of geotechnical structures, liquefaction, ground deformation and earthquake ground response analyses.

I am fortunate to also contribute as a reviewer for two leading journals: ‘The International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Science’, and ‘The Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering Journal’.

As a Tailing Engineer, can you tell us what this area of expertise focuses on?

As a Tailings Dam Engineer, it is important to ensure the safety and integrity of tailings facilities to reduce the risk of dam failure to people and the environment.  This is crucial not only during the tailing’s facility lifecycle, but also during closure and post closure stages. We achieve this by focusing on our core design principles as well as drawing on our multidiscipline expertise learnt from working on tailings dams throughout the world.

Globally, Tetra Tech has a long history in the engineering of tailings dams. In Australia, our offices have been providing consultancy services to key tailings dams owners and stakeholders for over 20 years.

What are some of the challenges of this type of engineering?

The stability and safety of a tailings dam relies on a large number of variables, and as such a holistic approach and understanding is critical which is very challenging.

Many things can lead to the potential failure of a tailings dam, including the strength loss of some tailings to withstand static and seismic forces, all of which must be considered carefully during the design.

History has taught us the importance of ensuring adequate safety protocols to manage tailings facilities including instrumenting the dam and implementing early warning systems.  These systems, along with other specialist techniques act to reduce the risk of dam failures.

How is Tetra Tech working together to meet the needs of clients?

Our tailings technical community is integrated and supported in offices across the globe. This unique community of individuals with expertise in science, research, and engineering is our collective strength to provide integrated services that deliver the best solutions to meet the need of our clients.

At Tetra Tech we have the unique opportunity to learn from our experts’ experiences nurtured by the technical challenges of working on projects around the world.

What do you enjoy most about your role working at Tetra Tech?

Our office is a diverse and inclusive workplace environment, embolden by our leading experts. The friendly environment and great teamwork in our office is what I cherish the most at Tetra Tech.

What are some of your most memorable projects you have worked on?

Most recently our team in Brisbane completed the geotechnical and seismic engineering design of a tailings dam in Queensland.

The project encompassed field, laboratory, numerical, and analytical studies to support our design.  Furthermore, our office oversaw the construction of the facility. It was a very rewarding project because we managed it from the engineering design concepts through to implementation and construction.

We are also assisting our colleagues from the Tetra Tech team in South America in the development of ‘Microseismic Monitoring’ technology to enhance the safety of tailings dams. By doing so, early stages of slope instabilities in a dam can be identified and corrective actions taken.

Connect with Henry  Henry.Munoz@TetraTech.com 

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