The people, science and technology behind discovery

Meet the Geobloggers

Geoblogging has different meanings to different people but for these two Earth Explorers it’s all about sharing their special passions for the geosciences while disseminating useful topics and generating discussion around the world

By Graham Chandler

The idea struck him on the night of July 23th, 2009. Giving it little further thought, that’s when Otavio Augusto Boni Licht suddenly sat down and just started a blog. It wasn’t entirely a whim; he had a good reason. “While publishing articles in scientific journals and participating as co-author in books about exploration geochemistry, I always felt there was a lack of opportunity to present ideas in a less formal manner than is required in conventional media used for scientific research publishing,” says the Brazilian geological consultant. “The name of the blog, Exploration geochemistry is not a joke, tries to convey the idea that even for a very technical subject, issues can be addressed in a light and even humorous manner.”

For Alexander Prikhodko, who started his blog in early November 2009 and has several individual categories, he saw a need to demonstrate successful use of applied geophysics in exploration - and to do that by disseminating results from case studies and presenting applications of Geosoft. “Ideally I like to open new pages especially for case studies which could contain detailed description of the methods or technologies, interpretation techniques, maps, geology/geochemistry and drilling results,” he says. “I have some of my own examples where geophysical results give not only the directions for follow up, but also explain the conditions and reasons for formation of the deposit type.” He says eventually this collection of real and practical examples could be useful not only for geophysics, but for mining companies and indeed the entire industry.

Licht and Prikhodko are two of the latest entries to the rapidly expanding field of geoblogging. The term is used in many ways, such as any sort of blogging that attaches GPS data for example, or to the sport of geo-caching. But to geoscientists it’s their rapport with the world of other geoscientists both professional and amateur for discussions of their respective geo-passions and specialties. Topics are as broad as the geosciences themselves - everything from volcanoes and earthquakes to gabbro and foraminifera and there are experts in every specialty. Some make almost daily entries. There’s even a carnival blog site where individual geogloggers take turns hosting and providing discussion topics.

The phenomenon is very much worldwide and geobloggers are generally highly qualified geoscientists from every corner of the planet. Licht is from Brazil and can boast a diverse geosciences background. He completed his Masters degree in 1982 in exploration geochemistry at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, then a PhD in multipurpose applications of surface geochemistry at the Federal University of Paraná 19 years later. He now calls surface geochemistry his passion and has worked and researched it extensively in the field.

“I’ve been involved with exploration geochemistry from my second job as a geologist in Companhia Brasileira do Cobre, where I was responsible for the geochemical exploration work that identified the lead-zinc-copper deposit of Fazenda Santa Maria (Santa Maria Ranch) in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil,” he says. “With that company I also headed up several regional and detailed exploration geochemistry campaigns for locating copper, lead and zinc ore bodies.”

Following that he joined the Geological Survey of the State of Paraná, MINEROPAR, as a geologist-geochemist. There he planned and coordinated several regional geochemical surveys based on collecting stream sediments, water and soils covering the entire 200,000 sq. km of the State of Paraná. “The data produced by these regional surveys had multiple applications from supporting geological mapping, mineral exploration, environmental diagnosis and monitoring and medical geology,” he says. He then returned to the private sector in 2007 as a consultant for one of Brazil’s largest mineral exploration companies, Votorantim Metais, providing support and advice to various company teams and projects in Brazil and other South American countries. Licht teaches several university courses as well as serving as co-leader in master’s and doctoral programs at Brazilian universities, offering his vast experience in geochemical exploration techniques to developing graduate students.

Not surprisingly then, exploration geochemistry figures large in his blog, and he’s well pleased with the unexpected response. He hadn’t expected so many others to share his passion. “When I started the blog, I had no expectation that it would have more than few readers because of the ‘barrenness’ of the subject matter,” he says. Moreover, he was writing the posts strictly in Portuguese. “Actually what I had in mind was to have a space to put my ideas and thoughts on a subject, exploration geochemistry, which I consider an important and very rich tool for studying and understanding the environment and which has several potential uses and applications.”

But he says his biggest surprise since starting the blog “was on November 30th, 2009 when I found in the access counter the figure 3,562, which in the 130 days of the blog’s life, gives about 27.4 hits per day.” He was also amazed to see a lot of requests from non Portuguese speaking countries (Portuguese is the blog’s ‘official’ language) like Saudi Arabia (5 readers), Czech Republic (3), Japan (1) and Russia (2). “Of course, the greatest number of readers is from Brazil at 89.1% and Portugal at 2.5%,” he says. “But there are also a lot of readers in the United States, Peru, Canada, Mozambique, Australia, Chile, Germany and Angola.” This he finds stimulating, and inspires dedication to his blog, “and a continuous search for the quality of the articles I post.”

What does Licht consider important to post out there? In line with his ‘fun’ approach, he says he has an Executive Committee that decides what to post—and that committee is him. He alone decides the agenda and which topics to be addressed, “at the very moment of writing,” he says. But they’re certainly not frivolous. “I have much interest in publicizing the importance of low density regional geochemical surveys that have been implemented, for example, in all European countries, China, Costa Rica and also in the state of Paraná.” He says these databases are rich, since they’ve typically analyzed more than 50 chemical elements in sediment and river water samples, and the potential uses and applications of the data are almost limitless. “With these data, we can not only find mineral deposits with economic importance, but also locate areas where the abundance or lack of chemical elements can result in serious diseases in humans, animals and plants,” he enthuses.

Licht sees geoblogging as providing a sort of convergence of geo-scientific thought around the world—an important trend in the field. “Discussing the environmental and geological conditions that add to the impacts of human activity can contribute in a significant way to [ameliorating] the severe climate changes on our planet,” he says. As well, “the geological sciences are seeking to interact with other branches of science in order to join efforts to avoid isolated work in their own interest and branch of science.”

And he sees his geochemical specialty tying in closely with that. “I am interested in the promotion and development of a knowledge base of multi-purpose regional geochemical surveys,” he says. The surveys must be of high quality. “The quality of planning and performing geochemical surveys, sampling techniques that improve discrimination ability and investigation depth and the analytical techniques with the sensitivity to detect chemical elements in quantities as small as one part per trillion,” are important he says. “As mineral deposits are becoming harder to find since they are very deep or in wilderness areas, it is necessary to improve the techniques to find them.” He feels that as industries will continue to need mineral commodities, exploration geochemistry has an important role to play.

New geoblogger Alexander Prikhodko is a world away from Licht but he has an equally impressive background. He received his master’s degree in geophysics from the National Mining University in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, a venerated mining school established in 1899. It followed a family tradition—his grandfather graduated in mining engineering from the same institution.

Right after graduation he headed to the icy stretches of northern Far East Russia where he says his practical geophysical activity began. “It was a remote geographical location—the Okhotsk shore and Dzhugdzhur Mountains,” he recalls. As the work progressed, he developed new fascinations, ones he hadn’t experienced in the academic world. “After a few years I noticed that geophysics as it applies to minerals is not only engineering but a very complicated and interesting science,” he says. “I took a great interest in magnetic properties of rocks and minerals.”

Which led him to the Institute of Geophysics of the Academy of Sciences in Ekaterinburg (Ural), where he undertook postgraduate studies under the direction of Professor Vladimir Ponomarev. From there he decided to pursue his passions for studying the role of magnetic properties of rocks and minerals in geological processes by doing a PhD at the Far East Institute of Mineral Resources in Khabarovsk. Some of his work was truly groundbreaking. “With the help of my invention ‘Identification of magnetic micro inclusions in ferromagnetic materials’, I learned to reconstruct P-T conditions of magmatic processes and mineral formation,” he says. “As a matter of fact I could register residual, non-dissolved titaniferous minerals inside accessory magnetite of rocks without microprobe analysis,” he says. He took numerous samples of rocks--granitoids, gabbroids, kimberlites, lamproites, dynites—from locations in Russia from west to east and determined which massifs, or dykes, or pipes are were able to produce mineral deposits and which were not. Unfortunately much of this kind of research was curtailed with the political events in Russia of the early 90s he says.

So Prikhodko struck out overseas. “The mining industry and new places were always attractive for me and I began to work in a joint venture in Colombia as a geophysicist in gold exploration,” he says, an element which also held a fascination for him. “Gold is one of the most popular and well-known metals for humankind but one of the most difficult subjects for geologists and geophysicists,” he says.

That enthusiasm went with him when he returned to the Far East of Russia, where he had been invited to take the position of chief geophysicist at the then-large gold-platinum mining company Amur. “The hunting for gold continued for me,” he says. “I started from scratch—one magnetometer and one resistivity meter and continued with complex borehole, ground and airborne geophysics over thousands of square kilometres. For some of these geophysical methods and equipment, it was their first successful application in Russia.”

And with all the airborne, ground and borehole data he was generating he says Geosoft and Oasis montaj quickly became for him the main dataset manager. It provided him with three critical elements: data integrity, means of analysis and presentation and mapping. He took such an interest in using the software that he undertook yet another degree between field sessions: a bachelor’s degree in programming from Khabarovsk Technical University, “to be able to develop applications for the many data processing tasks of field geophysics with particular equipment,” he says.

It all contributes to the offerings on his blog, especially when it comes to results of smaller projects that he feels ought to be disseminated. “To my mind many case studies are kept in the shadows even after the mining of a deposit,” he says. “I think it is important to analyze the results of geophysical technologies and methods of interpretation not only for well-known and rich deposits but for the many cases of small and medium mineral deposits.”

Prikhodko is now in Canada, attracted here he says by the extent of airborne geophysics in the country. “Canada is deservedly considered as one of the worldwide centres of applied geophysics and airborne geophysics in particular,” he says. “And it is airborne geophysics that has brought a lot of advances to mineral exploration over the past decade.” He reckons many of the methods, equipment and technologies that are developing and spreading over the world are honed on Canadian geology and mineral deposits. “It is appropriate that Geosoft is here in the heart of geophysics and is being developed together.”   

Working with data using Geosoft has become an important direction of his blog, too. “The software environment has become standard in applied geophysics for database administration, data processing, analyzing, interpretation and clear visualization and presentation of large volumes of data from multiple data sources,” he says. “Geosoft has many instruments for this.”  Prikhodko particularly likes their GX Developer Toolkit because at times the standard Geosoft doesn’t have a tool for a unique job. “It provides the opportunity to develop executable modules for users’ special needs, data and procedures,” he says. “Eventually the developed modules can bring enormous time and cost savings, and operational efficiencies.”

True to the spirit of the geoblogosphere, Prikhodko expounds these advantages in his blog, sharing details of some of the modules he’s developed. “I know there are people who are doing the same and I suggest the developers also share the information about the modules.”