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Greenfields come to Perth for Greenland Day

by Dan Zlotnikov on December 2, 2012 community

Travelling to remote regions in search of new mineral wealth has long been a fact of life for mining companies, but some undertakings require especially long-distance travel. The December 4th Greenland Day, for instance, will be taking place in Perth, Australia, some 16 thousand kilometres from Greenland itself. The event, being put on by Greenland’s Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum (BMP) in concert with Australia’s Centre for Exploration Targeting (CET) and the Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark (GEUS), will feature industry and geoscience experts from across the globe, discussing Greenland’s burgeoning exploration opportunities and recent research advances. The industry is certainly paying attention: companies such as Greenland Minerals and Energy and Ironbark Zinc are backing the event.

Greenland Day key speaker and CET Professor Marco Fiorentini says that the first seeds of the partnership were planted in 2010, when GEUS geologists attended the once-per-decade Archean summit in Perth. The visitors and their CET counterparts got to talking, and the Greenlanders mentioned there may be an opportunity for CET students to participate in a major project, mapping parts of southeastern Greenland. The region is gradually becoming more accessible due to deglaciation, and GEUS has been working on “opening up southeastern Greenland as a new frontier for geological mapping and potentially metal exploration,” explains Fiorentini.

An Australian federal government grant, received through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems, made the next stage of the partnership possible, with two students travelling to Greenland in 2011, and two more replacing them this year, in addition to four CET researchers.

“The people from Greenland and Denmark are unbelievable in terms of logistical support. They've been doing this type of work for years, so they think about everything and the students have a fantastic time in the field, using helicopters and icebreakers,” says Fiorentini.

Emerging Promise

The mapping project has enormous potential both in scientific and economic terms, Fiorentini continues. The rocks and mountains being exposed are some of the oldest in the world. “Some of the greatest clues about how life came to be on the planet are there in Greenland,” he predicts.

The mineral wealth may also be significant – Fiorentini compares Greenland’s Archean craton to those found elsewhere in the world, most notably in Western Australia and in Canada’s Timmins region. These have been targets of extensive exploration and have yielded massive amounts of mineral riches. By contrast, Greenland’s Archean craton is virtually untouched by human activity: Fiorentini estimates that the datasets covering southeastern Greenland are one to two orders of magnitude less extensive than those of other Archean cratons. “We have a much poorer control on the ages, the geochronological framework, the geochemistry, the nature of the rocks,” he says.

The maturity of other Archean areas is now proving very helpful to the partners working in Greenland: With fifty years or more of expertise to apply to a new greenfields region, Fiorentini expects mineral exploration activity to be both more efficient and more effective, locating more deposits at a lower expenditure.

Fiorentini offers the example of geochronological dating, a process that a couple of decades ago could take weeks for each sample. Today’s techniques such as laser ablation ICP-MS eliminate the need for most of the sample preparation time, allowing scientists to determine the age of a rock with virtually no sample preparation, says Fiorentini, allowing to determine the age of a rock in a few days.

“This is where CET is playing a big role: translating the science of exploration targeting into a greenfields area that could reveal itself as a very interesting place to be,”  he says.

“We're trying to learn from what we haven't done right in the past. To translate what we've published over the past few years, to get people onboard to try and apply these new tools, to maximise exploration success and minimize the impact on the environment. By being more efficient in where you look, you don't need to look everywhere to find what you're looking for.”

Applying fifty years’ worth of experience to a completely fresh greenfields region will help the exploration process along, but the benefits flow both ways: Having the opportunity to use modern techniques in a greenfields setting may give explorers reason to go back to previously-explored areas for a second look.

“A recent nickel discovery in Western Australia was the result of a new way of thinking about how Archean and Proterozoic geology operates. I'm totally convinced there are still surprises to be found in cratons in our backyard,” says Fiorentini.

Which is not to say that Greenland’s virgin territory is without its own advantages. “We have a real opportunity to look at Greenland in a holistic way,” Fiorentini continues, explaining that this will be an opportunity for the scientists to look beyond the classical models.

“Maybe we can go a little bit off the beaten path and look at areas that might not have been considered prospective just a few years ago, and look at them with new eyes.”

Fiorentini points out that the project is currently focused on creating the basic datasets crucial for any type of future discovery.

“We're creating the maps, we're dating the rocks, we're looking at field relations. Then it will be potentially for us or for others to understand the significance of these datasets and to put them together,” he explains.

It’s this joining of forces between industry and academia –an achievement reflected at this year’s Greenland Day – that Fiorentini feels is the most significant achievement of the project.

“What we're keen on is translating what we've been working on – the science of exploration targeting –to exploration companies so they can potentially apply these tools, maximizing their exploration success and hopefully minimizing any impact on the environment that may arise from the exploration activity.”

Fiorentini will be one of the presenters at the December 4th Greenland Dayat the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia. In reflection of the collaboration between industry and academia, the event will include both reports on recent scientific advances in the region and industry presentations on prospective projects and initiatives, giving all involved a reason to look Greenland with new eyes.