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Earth Explorer is an online source of news, expertise and applied knowledge for resource explorers and earth scientists. Sponsored by Geosoft.

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Technology Review

What are the current demands and the latest advancements in exploration software and solutions? Geosoft’s product management directors and chief technologist field questions on current and emerging trends.

What are some of the current demands from the exploration sector?

We’re seeing more interest and investment, industry-wide, in data management. Within exploration companies of all sizes there is a stronger focus on understanding the information you have, making it more easily accessible and preserving it for future exploration projects. We are actively working with exploration companies like Areva, Vale, Teck Cominco, Rio Tinto and others to design and implement Exploration Information Management Solutions (EIMS) that deliver greater transparency of data and decision-making and better data access for global exploration teams.

Improving exploration capabilities within GIS is another requirement. Most exploration companies are now using GIS systems as a core technology, and explorers need better tools for working with their data and projects within GIS environments. This is an important focus for Geosoft. We have made continual improvements to our exploration geology and geochemistry workflows for ESRI’s ArcGIS to ensure they meet explorer needs.

In what areas of exploration are Geosoft software and solutions used?

Geosoft software, services and solutions support explorers in all areas of exploration, from opportunity assessment and target generation to advanced exploration and prefeasibility. The exploration sector generates and consumes vast amounts of geospatial data. Geosoft solutions provide a full range of capabilities that help explorers manage their exploration information and projects and generate insight from the data in maps, sections, 3D models and integrated interpretations that aid project evaluation and guide drilling programs.

What are your latest software capabilities for exploration, and what areas do they target?

Our 2010 software release targets three key areas: improving access to data and information; simplifying workflows to make exploration tasks like reporting and map creation more efficient; and creating an environment where explorers can move from 2D to 3D more seamlessly.

We have introduced Seeker, a new tool designed to help explorers find and start using data quicker. Seeker provides a single interface for handling the entire data access workflow – from structured metadata querying to the viewing of results and from data extraction to the explorer’s desktop application.

We’ve improved statistical and reporting capabilities within our Target exploration geology workflow, making it easier to highlight, report and assess significant intersections in drilling projects.

We also continue to expand 3D capabilities within the Geosoft platform. Effective 3D rendering of the subsurface has become essential for presentation and collaboration; however, a great deal of exploration work is still completed in 2D plans and sections. To help bridge the gap, we have added new support for crooked geophysical sections that will enable more accurate representations of the data in 2D and 3D.

What impact have you seen on the demand for exploration software and solutions?

In today’s challenging climate, there has been a significant pullback of activity in the exploration sector. As a solution provider, we’ve worked with customers to understand how we can help them become more efficient with fewer resources.

Within the junior sector, explorers have focused on preserving funds and many have slowed down aggressive drilling projects. This has led to more data analysis, more integration of data and smarter application of technology.

As many explorers decelerate, we are seeing greater use of advanced 3D capabilities and more time spent generating integrated interpretations (combining geophysics, geology and geochemistry) to focus their projects, and minimize risk, before making the decision to drill.

A number of recent discoveries have been credited to the application of modern technology to old projects. As an example, recent discoveries at HudBay’s Lalor Lake and Rio Tinto’s Bingham Canyon mine were both attributed to fresh perspectives that came from applying deeper exploration techniques and 3D visualization capabilities.

Among our larger customers, we’ve also seen a focus on realigning resources and operational efficiency. Deploying corporate-wide technology projects, with limited in house IT resources, continues to be a challenge. In many cases we’ve supplemented our technology with services to support our customers’ data management needs.

Have exploration companies changed their approach to technology in recent years?

More exploration companies are consolidating their technology spending to focus on core platforms and tools they consider to be the most essential to exploration. They’re being more prudent with discretionary software spending. Geosoft exploration software is used extensively across the exploration project cycle, including drill hole mapping, data integration, 3D visualization and generation of interpretations and reports. In many cases, Geosoft has been deployed as a standard platform within exploration companies. As a result, our customer base has remained stable. In some cases we’ve been able to develop stronger relationships and new opportunities with existing customers.

We’ve also found exploration companies to be more receptive to using services to supplement internal resources when deploying larger technology projects. We’re working on a number of Exploration Information Management projects where Geosoft is providing a complete solution, one that combines technology with value added services to support things like information and metadata preparation, workflow customization and change management.

People still need improved workflows, better user interfaces, and better access to data, and we continue to work on all fronts to address these needs. So, in many ways, things haven’t changed.

What will be the next developments in exploration software?

The next developments will be focused around the web, in particular the emerging model of cloud computing (Internetbased development) and the delivery of web services. Our ability to efficiently manage tasks, like handling the vast amount of data generated from exploration, through personal computers is limited. And as we continue to face the demographic challenge of meeting growing global demand for resources with fewer people and tighter financial constraints, the need for efficient access to information and tools within the exploration sector is greater than ever.

Web-based development provides new opportunities for connecting explorers to data and tools that allow for more effective, efficient decision-making and empower collaboration within global exploration teams. Building this shared and interconnected future with explorers is motivating future developments at Geosoft.

We’re also working on earth modelling, and how we can make complex techniques like geophysical inversions (which convert geophysical data into 3D earth models) more useful and accessible to exploration professionals. We recently welcomed Dr. Robert Ellis, an industry leader in inversion and modelling of geophysical data, to our R&D team in the role of Senior Scientist, Earth Modelling.

Inversion techniques have progressively moved from university research labs to industry exploration environments, where they have helped to develop further insight into the subsurface and reduce risk in exploration for minerals and oil and gas. However, they remain highly specialized and complex. We are working with Dr. Ellis on the next generation of modelling capabilities that will make 3D modelling accessible to many more explorers. Although we are still in the early stages of development, we are very encouraged by progress so far.

Questions were answered by Louis Racic and Steve Randall, Geosoft Product Management Directors, and Ian MacLeod, the company’s Chief Technologist.