At 10 a.m. on February 10, 2011, disaster struck the Çöllolar coalfield in central Turkey, near the city of Elbistan. The northeastern wall of an open-pit mine collapsed, sending about 50 million tons of material into the mine. The debris buried and killed ten workers.
The collapse was the second at the same mine within a week. Four days earlier, a smaller landslide damaged the opposite wall and killed one person. According to a United Nations report, debris from the two landslides covered 2.73 square kilometers (1 square mile). The larger landslide extended 350 meters (1,150 feet) past the original perimeter of the pit. Inadequate drainage of the mine walls likely caused the landslides, according to Caner Zanbak, an environmental adviser to the Turkish Chemical Manufacturers Association.
The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite acquired this view of the landslide’s aftermath on June 7, 2011. Material from both landslides is visible in the mine pit on the left side of the image. See this blog post for a detailed satellite view of the boundary between the two debris fields. An aerial photograph of the two landslides is available here. The pit on the far right of the image is the Kislaköy mine, which was damaged in 2006 by a landslide.
The material mined at the Çöllolar coalfield is lignite, a brown type of coal that is generally younger and softer than bituminous or anthracite. Turkey relies on lignate for 21 percent of its electric power production, and the Afsin-Elbistan lignite basin contains about half of Turkey’s lignate reserves.
Turkey has the highest fatality rate for miners in the world, with 133 deaths for every 100,000 miners in Turkey, according to data released in 2011. As of June 19, 2012, the Çöllolar coalfield was still closed pending the outcome of a lawsuit. The bodies of nine of the workers killed had not yet been recovered from the debris.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Adam Voiland with information from Caner Zanbak. Congratulations to Alexandre Mathieu for being the first person to correctly identify the image in response to our monthly Satellite Puzzler. Thanks also to readers who participated through our Facebook page.