Copper Loop Aquaculture

reclaiming open pit copper mines for a fish farming future

academic, infrastructure, Columbia GSAPP

Sean Gallagher, Diller Scofidio+Renfro

Rio Blanco, Chile


Fall 2020

As a country that has almost four thousand mines, primarily for copper extraction, there is an opportunity to combine the current and future exhausted copper mines and aquaculture within Chile in order to potentially change the standard of aquaculture production and the alleviate prevalent ecosystem issues.

Currently, nearly half of Chile's exports is Copper Ore and Refined Copper among other minerals, an approximate 24.3 Billion USD per year. Much of this extraction is done by open pit mines that are terraced to extract the minerals deeper in the Earth.

Seafood products are poised as a growing industry in Chile. However, for instance, salmon, one of the primary fish exported from Chile, have farms that typically sited in pristine coastal ecosystems in the country which they then pollute. A farm with 200,000 salmon discharges more fecal waste than a city of 60,000 people.This waste is discharged directly into the surrounding aquatic environment, untreated, often containing antibiotics and pesticides.[1]Further endangering the ecosystem, worms that grow alongside these sea pens are eating much of the red algae, or 'pellilo', another primary seafood export, that is harvested on the coasts.[2]

How can the adaptation of open pit copper mines in Chile invent a new type of freshwater aquaculture?

With the increased population by 2050, Chile's seafood production is poised to dramatically increase as a primary export for the country. Simultaneously, as Chile exhausts its copper mines by 2025[3], there is an opportunity to reclaim these terraformed landscapes for an industry with potential growth. However, as the country considers the growing current practices of sea cage rearing. Fresh water practices may provide less harmful exchange systems. With the initial area of the Rio Blanco copper mine, a new facility could yield approximately 1.5 billion fish.

How can the existing corridor for copper mine extraction, refinement and export be utilized for the aquaculture distribution?

Rio Blanco Mine and the local city of Rio Blanco Carretera, population of 475 act as the keystone for both the infrastructure and threshold for reinvigorating the town's economic growth. A town that once supported for the Rio Blanco and Andina Mine will grow as part of the new aquaculture and conservation headquarters. the town of Rio Blanco will also bolster new jobs through the new industry as well as eco-tourism to the area through an extension of hiking from the surrounding Paloma Hiking Trail.

The Rio Blanco Copper Mine open pit has the potential to create as many as much as 3.41 sq km of aquaculture, harvesting in the exhausted open pit. The extended hiking path from Cerro La Paloma will extend to the nearby Glaciar Olivares Beta and Cerro Negro, offering views to the aquaculture loops and facilities. The hiking path is bridged across to the main building, offering respite for the hikers through lodging and other interior programs.

As to address the growing issues with drought and water access in the country, Rio Blanco Mine is adjacent to a glacier which will provide the large initial investment of water. Considering the metabolism of the system, the biowaste nitrates from the aquaculture process will supply the local wine and agriculture industry in the nearby Santiago region.

Site water that terraces down through the aqua loops will both provide vital aerated water for the aquaculture and micro hydroelectric energy through the constant transfer in the gravity system. Once the water arrives at the bottom pool, the water will be filtered and circulated through the architecture to the top terrace to cycle the process. The site will reintroduce water into the existing watershed to reestablish a symbiosis that the prior copper mines consumed.

The architecture of the new aquaculture system will be a superimposed plurality of research labs, an endangered Andean condor conservatory- they nest in the area, lodging, and processing facilities that will educate and ritualize the processes of a new form of aquaculture at the former Rio Blanco Mine.

[1]Seafood Choice Alliance, "It's All About Salmon, Salmon Aquaculture", 2005. Accessed November 15, 2020.

[2]Agar-Agar under Threat: Why Chile’s ‘Green Gold’ Is in Danger of Extinction.” Accessed October 10, 2020.

[3]Kitco News. “Chile’s Copper Output to Fall after 2025, Report Says,” July 21, 2015.

Seafood Choice Alliance, "It's All About Salmon, Salmon Aquaculture", 2005. Accessed November 15, 2020.

“Agar-Agar under Threat: Why Chile’s ‘Green Gold’ Is in Danger of Extinction.” Accessed October 10, 2020.

“Chile Export Data | Chile Customs Data | Export Statistics.” Accessed November 12, 2020.

DataChile. “DataChile.” Accessed December 20, 2020.

National Aquaculture Sector Overview. Visión General del Sector Acuícola Nacional - Chile. National Aquaculture Sector Overview Fact Sheets. Text by Norambuena, R. & González, L. In: FAO Fisheries Division [online]. Rome. Updated 1 January 2005. [Cited 20 December 2020].

Kitco News. “Chile’s Copper Output to Fall after 2025, Report Says,” July 21, 2015.

Joel McCullough Copyright 2020