Dr. Albert Yeboah-Forson teams with students for study of mining areas

An aerial drone films the OK-KS boarder.
An aerial drone films the OK-KS boarder.

The video begins with a view of blacktop before the drone whirs to life, making a gradual ascent until it presents a 360-degree look at a desolate landscape.

It’s an area that appears more suited to location filming for the next “Mad Max” entry than serving as a place where people would want to live. Which is precisely why it was selected for study.

Dr. Albert Yeboah-Forson, an assistant professor of geophysics, teamed with then-mechanical engineering major Kush Bhakta during the fall for a project that involves using a drone to scout area mining remediation sites for further study.

The pair reviewed government, academic and archive literature from the Joplin Museum Complex for ideas on areas to study, as well as archival photos to use for comparison.

They collected videos and still images from areas in Southwest Missouri, Southeast Kansas and Northeast Oklahoma – the Tri-State district where lead and zinc were heavily mined starting in the late 1800s.

“We wanted to know how far these former mining locations have gotten in terms of remediation,” says Forson. “Typically, we would do that by collecting water and soil samples, but we have limited resources.

The aerial findings have been grouped into three areas – incomplete remediation, successful remediation and unsuccessful remediation. Data collected during the study will hopefully prove useful to the communities being looked at, he says. It will be used to find problem areas and suggest ways for further remediation.

Bhakta gave a presentation on the project during the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting, held Dec. 14-18 in San Francisco, Calif.

The event included around 1,800 presentations on a variety of scientific topics, workshops and networking opportunities. The Presidential Forum featured Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and the co-founder of Tesla Motors. It also marked the first time a student from Missouri Southern has presented at the AGU’s annual meeting.

“It’s the biggest conference in terms of geophysics,” says Forson. “It gave him some exposure and a chance to meet experts in the field.”

While the drone portion of the study has been completed, Forson says the project is far from over.

“The first part of this study was the drone component,” he says. “I’ll be working with two students this summer to identify locations for a chemistry analysis.”

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