The people, science and technology behind discovery

Access to Online Survey Data Helps Explorers to Focus Their Exploration

Louis Racic

The days of dusting off assessment files and painstakingly piecing together disparate datasets to produce a compilation of an area's mineral potential are drawing to a close. Increasingly, government surveys the storehouses of this type of information are supplying instant access to data online, while earth globe viewers are providing the means to visualize it.

The result? Explorers are able to outline their targets more quickly and efficiently.

Geoscience BC, for example, has released airborne gamma-ray spectrometric and magnetic data for the Bonaparte Lake area of south-central British Columbia, a region considered long on mineral potential but short on information owing to a thick layer of glacial overburden and volcanic rocks that obscure the areas of economic interest.

The purpose of the geophysical survey was to see through that cover and measure radioactive signatures in the overburden. Once the data were released, anyone could download the dataset, the geology of the area, and a map of individual claim holdings, then, by overlaying the multiple layers, pinpoint the most prospective areas and make a decision to claim ground all in a matter of hours.

Even claim staking, which used to entail sending a crew loaded down with claim posts into the bush, can now be done online in B.C. with a few clicks of the mouse.

"A lot of staking was under way when we announced we were flying the survey, so just the fact that we were doing it generated interest," says Lynn Anglin, president and CEO of Geoscience BC, a not-for-profit organization that collects, interprets and delivers geoscientific information, usually in partnership with governments and industry. "Since the release of the data, there has been additional staking, as well as deals made on the basis of that information (see Fig. 1). Small companies or prospectors who've been trying to get larger companies interested in their projects have been able to arrange joint ventures or sell their properties."

Candorado Operating Company Ltd., which helped fund the survey, has already applied for drilling permits based on the results. The area is prospective for a number of mineral deposit types, particularly copper porphyries.

The Bonaparte Lake release, a joint project of Geoscience BC, Natural Resources Canada and three junior companies, is the sort of shot in the arm private companies need: the data enable them to pinpoint prospective areas and reduce the time and money required to do so. Geoscientists who may once have spent weeks compiling assessment files and survey data from various sources, including the Internet, CDs and hard copy reports, can now (depending on the jurisdiction) go online and immediately produce a detailed map of a region's geology and potential.

Accessibility is enhanced by globe viewers such as Google Earth, NASA's World Wind, and Geosoft's Dapple, all of which can be downloaded from the Internet at no cost.

Dapple recently appeared on the landscape as a globe viewer designed for professional geoscientists. It is developed to work well with Web Map Servers (WMS), where much of the world's public sources of geoscientific data reside. The information available includes satellite imagery from NASA and Microsoft Virtual Earth, remote sensing data, geology maps, geophysical data, and many other earth data sets that can be saved and shared with colleagues. Geoscientists can view as much or as little data as they like and add new WMS servers to the viewer as needed.

When used in combination with internal data servers, Dapple allows users to integrate their own data with those in the public domain, creating a powerful tool for geoscientists who can often learn more about an exploration target by overlaying relevant data. Combining company-generated soil sampling results with government geophysical survey results, for example, could highlight coincident anomalies that might otherwise go unnoticed.

One of the most useful aspects of viewers like Dapple, says Mansour Shoari of De Beers Canada's Mineral Resource Management department, is that geoscientists can find many layers of primary data they need in a one-stop shop, instead of having to go to several different sites.

"Dapple helps us gather information to analyze a Canadian property," he says. "It reduces the time spent searching for the information and organizing the data. And because it's always up-to-date, you don't need to worry about the validity of the data."

But these are still early days. Not all government surveys are dedicated to the concept of providing data online, or have the resources to follow through, so the data available to the public remain spotty. Shoari, for instance, can get very little information for Russia, which is one of the places De Beers is exploring for diamonds, whereas information from Canada and Australia is abundant, as these countries have a tradition of providing public data to the industry, often free of charge.

Natural Resources Canada's Geoscience Data Repository (GDR) for Geophysical and Geochemical Data has grown immensely since first releasing national aeromagnetic compilation grids in early 2004. The entire Canadian Aeromagnetic Data Base, both profile and gridded data, is now available and integrated with metadata. Approximately 90% of the National Gamma-ray Spectrometry Data Base is similarly available. The Canadian Gravity Anomaly Data Base is also served as point and gridded datasets.

Having NRCan geophysical data available on-line and at no charge has increased their usage by geophysicists, geoscientists, and explorationists. Before the advent of the GDR, between 200 to 300 requests for data were processed annually. "Over 5,000 geophysical datasets are now downloaded annually through the GDR," says Warner Miles, head of the GSC's Regional Geophysics Section. "In addition to our legacy data, clients can access newly published data in active exploration camps the moment of publication.

Provincial governments are also providing information online, though it tends to be less comprehensive because the servers are not large enough to host all the data. The Bonaparte Lake data, for instance, is being promoted by Geoscience BC but is only available through Natural Resources Canada's GDR.

"We currently don't have the capacity to archive those huge volumes of data," concedes Anglin, though she says Geoscience BC plans to provide its own data online in the future.

"There are limitations in the public data," Shoari agrees. "Anything we want from Geological Survey of Canada we can get, because it has a public server with a direct DAP/Dapple connection. On the other hand, the Ontario Geological Survey or other regional branches of the government have a lot of good data, but they haven't made it easily accessible to globe viewers."

Early this year, the GDR upgraded its Geosoft DAP server technology to the latest release, and with the upgrade came new functionality for spatial, keyword and text-based searches for data layers and WMS services. "The web-browser interface, Oasis montaj, and Dapple interfaces to the DAP server provide our clients with a great access, visualization, and data integration tools, "says Miles. "They have introduced our databases to a much wider client base. This application helps us fulfill our mandate of making Canada more attractive for investment through the provision of basic resource exploration infrastructure data."

Will future discoveries be made by a geoscientist sitting at computer, picking and choosing from a comprehensive list of public and private datasets and integrating the information to provide new insights into a prospective area? As provincial, national and even international governments continue to strive make their valuable data instantly available on-line, the concept no longer belongs in the realm of science fiction.

Free download of Dapple globe viewer at