Mining and Environmental Change in Sierra Leone, West Africa: A Remote Sensing and Hydrogeomorphological Study

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West Africa, Mining, Hydrology, Land use change. Remote sensing

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This paper evaluates the environmental changes in southwestern Sierra Leone, West Africa from rutile (titanium dioxide) between 1967 and 1995. Mining in peripheral parts of the world economy is a consequence of larger global economic interests. Historically, long-distance trade and export production of minerals and other natural resources primarily for the benefit of core countries are responsible for transforming the natural environment and landscapes of peripheral sectors of the world economy. Tracking environmental change in developing countries such as Sierra Leone is challenging because of financial and infrastructural constraints on the use of ground methods of evaluation and monitoring. Remote sensing data are invaluable in assessing the human dimensions of Land Use and Land Cover Change (LULCC) with implications for political ecology. Using available multi-date infrared Landsat images supplemented with field hydrological and biophysical data, we monitored the rapid temporal and spatial dynamic characteristic of mining areas in the study area with a focus on physical changes to the landscape. Reservoir construction for mining has caused flooding of alluvial lowlands, deforestation, and the creation of tailings and stockpiles over mined-out portions of the lease. Although the study was conducted at a local scale, it represents the broad, regional, past-to-present manner by which global economic interests exploit natural resources and impact the environment in distant places.

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Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, v. 142, issues 1-3, p. 309-318