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The relationship between mineralogy and shear strength of Pilbara Hamersley Group shales across the weathering spectrum


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Author A Maldonado, K G Mercer and A Robert


The Hamersley Group in the Pilbara, Western Australia, consist of interlayered banded iron formation (BIF) and shale host rock formations within which a large number of open pit iron ore mines have been established. The slope stability of most of the mining excavations developed within these formations is controlled by the relatively low shear strength of the shale groups and shale bands, which are the weakest rock types. Shale formations range from fresh to highly weathered and are generally highly fissile when fresh, and clayey when weathered. An accurate understanding of the shear strength of these materials across the entire weathering continuum is therefore a key importance for assessing the slope stability of these mines.

Historically defect laboratory testing results for the Pilbara mines have been analysed mechanically using direct shear testing (DST) to measure a number of geotechnical characteristics of the rock bedding and defects. This paper sets out the current practice in the industry in terms of the laboratory testing and presents a possible application of hyperspectral data to empirically correlate the shear strength of shale bedding with the relative mineralogy abundance on the bedding surface. This was achieved by creating both hyperspectral and geotechnical data sets for the same samples.

In the study the shale samples were separated into three distinct assemblages: iron oxide + kaolinite, iron oxide + white mica + kaolinite, white mica + kaolinite, which had 40, nine and two samples respectively. Analysing these assemblages alongside DST data showed that samples with white mica had reduced non-variable shear strength, whereas samples with iron oxide + kaolinite had an overall higher shear strength but with a greater variance. It is inferred that the reduced shear strength in the white mica samples is due to the sheet (or plate) like structure of the mineral, giving it a weak stress plane. Confidence in the trends observed can be reinforced by expanding the data set in future works. The investigation also includes a discussion on weathering grade and addresses the question as to whether mineralogy abundances influence these characteristics in Hamersley shales.


Maldonado, A, Mercer, K G and Robert, A, 2017. The relationship between mineralogy and shear strength of Pilbara Hamersley Group shales across the weathering spectrum, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 423–430 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).