The people, science and technology behind discovery

Subscribe to the Magazine

Get new articles sent directly to
your mailbox.

Join the network

Twitter Updates Group Forum

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

News & Views

News Archive

December 7, 2016

Geosoft introduces IP and resistivity inversion in VOXI Earth Modelling

Geosoft has added induced polarization and resistivity data inversion to its VOXI Earth Modelling 3D inversion software service. Geoscientists are now able to create detailed 3D models of conductivity and chargeability from IP and resistivity survey data with VOXI. The resulting models can assist in interpreting and targeting regions for mineral and environmental applications...

December 5, 2016

Mexico's Deepwater Round Exceeds Expectations

Some of the world's biggest oil companies showed up Dec. 5 and agreed to invest on the Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico, proving that deepwater exploration still has a pulse despite challenging market conditions...

November 30, 2016

Magnetic inversion results for Ngamiland available for download

A regional-scale geophysical inversion of magnetic field data in the Ngamiland region of northwestern Botswana is now available for download from the Botswana Geoscience Portal, a partnership initiative of the Botswana Geoscience Institute, industry sponsors and Geosoft...

November 30, 2016

LIGO Resumes Search for Gravitational Waves

After a series of upgrades, the twin detectors of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, have turned back on and resumed their search for ripples in the fabric of space and time known as gravitational waves. LIGO transitioned from their engineering test runs to full science observations at 8 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on November 30...

November 9, 2016

International Volcano Scientists Unite

For the first time, the United States will host the international Volcano Observatory Best Practices workshop, previously held only in Italy. The workshop will take place this month in Vancouver, Washington. It is designed specifically for volcano observatories around the world and their staff to exchange ideas and best practices with each other...

October 4, 2016

USGS Assesses Mineral Potential for Sagebrush Habitats in Six Western States

USGS has completed a comprehensive assessment and inventory of potential mineral resources covering approximately 10 million acres of Federal and adjacent lands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming...

October 3, 2016

Uganda Targets Up to U.S.$100 Million for Mineral Exploration

Uganda is well endowed with mineral resources and, like many naturally-gifted African countries, is becoming keen on ensuring that these resources play a transformative role in its long-term structural transformation dream - the Vision 2040...

September 9, 2016

Small-Scale Fishers Get A Big Boost With First-Of-Its Kind Impact Investment Fund

Conservation organization Rare announces the Meloy Fund for Small-Scale Fisheries at Our Ocean Conference. The Global Environment Facility, one of the largest funders of conservation worldwide, will be investing $6 million into the fund...

September 1, 2016

Scientists take to the skies to track West African pollution

Scientists operating research aircraft over West Africa have detected organic materials in the atmosphere over a number of urban areas, contributing to concerns of the rise in pollution across the region...

August 17, 2016

New IGS Xplore prospectivity maps for Botswana

International Geoscience Services have released a series of base metal prospectivity maps for the Ngamiland District of northwestern Botswana using free geodata available on the recently-launched Botswana Geoscience Portal, hosted by Geosoft. The maps identify favorable areas for copper, zinc and lead mineralization using geological, geochemical and geophysical datasets downloaded directly from the portal.

August 11, 2016

NexGen Makes New High Grade Discovery

NexGen Energy reported the discovery of a new high grade zone of mineralization 4.7 km northeast of the Arrow Deposit as part of an on-going summer drilling program on its 100% owned, Rook I property, Athabasca Basin, Saskatchewan...

August 10, 2016

Rampion UXO Disposal to Take Place This Week

E.ON has confirmed that the two unexploded devices, detected along the Rampion offshore cable route will be safely disposed this week following the consultation with the Marine Management Organisation...

August 9, 2016

Diamonds In The Rough: E&Ps Find New Reserves In Mature Basins

The oil industry’s history demonstrates clearly that new plays and prospects have long been found in mature basins that were thought to be well on the way to being squeezed dry. Through the acquisition of new data, developing new concepts and coming up with fresh interpretations, long-producing basins around the world from the North Sea to Malaysia have continued to reveal new riches...

August 8, 2016

Northern Shield Identifies High Quality VTEM Targets at Séquoi

Northern Shield Resources announced the results of the interpretation and modelling of the VTEM survey from the Séquoi Property in the Labrador Trough of Quebec . Séquoi is owned 100% by Northern Shield and is being explored for Noril'sk style Ni-Cu-PGE massive sulphides. After geophysical modelling and interpretation of the VTEM data from Séquoi, six VTEM anomalies of significant interest have been identified...

August 3, 2016

Rio Tinto tailors big data drive to copper

Rio Tinto will put the weight of an exploration big data push and its newly-formed Growth and Innovation group behind its desire to identify a "tier 1" copper asset. Speaking at the annual Diggers & Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie, Growth and Innovation group executive Stephen McIntosh said Australia was "overdue for a tier 1" mineral discovery of any type...

August 1, 2016

Tetra Tech Awarded $200 Million Navy CLEAN Contract

Tetra Tech announced that it has been awarded a $200 million, single-award contract by Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic. Through the Comprehensive Long-term Environmental Action Navy (CLEAN) contract, Tetra Tech will provide environmental engineering support services to installations within the NAVFAC Atlantic Area of Responsibility...

May 3, 2016

NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS), MODUM Partners announce "Young Scientist Summer School on Sea Dumped Chemical Weapons"

This international project cooperates closely with CHEMSEA (Search and Assessment of Chemical Weapons) Project for and sharing and knowledge transfer...

April 12, 2016

Monday mad rush for gold stocks

Renewed optimism about the outlook for gold saw investors pile back into gold stocks, pushing many stock to 52-week highs in heavy volumes...

April 11, 2016

Medgold Resources: Continues to Expand the Boticas Gold Project, Portugal; Proposes $200,000 Private Placement

Medgold Resources is pleased to announce new assay results from contiguous rock-chip sampling from the Limarinho South zone at its Boticas gold project in Portugal, which include a highlight of 6.0m @ 5.7 g/t Au...

April 8, 2016

De-carbonizing our energy sector

Nuclear energy currently provides around 11 percent of the world's electricity. China, the European Union, the United States, India, Russia, South Korea, and other nations’ have major existing fleets...

April 1, 2016

Follow-Up Drilling Results Indicate Wide Gold Zones at Hendricks Gold Discovery

Gascoyne Resources Limited announced that it has received the final assay results from the 10,000 metre aircore exploration drilling programme...

March 26, 2016

The Oil Market Is Finally Hitting Its Breaking Point

After a significant reduction in investments over the past two years, oil companies can no longer overcome the production declines from legacy wells...

March 15, 2016

N-Sea Expands into the French Offshore Wind Industry

Subsea IMR provider, N-Sea, has signed a letter of intent with CERES Recherches & Expertise Sous-Marine and TechSub Industrie Environement, to provide subsea survey, installation and remediation services to the French offshore wind industry...

March 9, 2016

PDAC 2016 Convention Exceeds 22,000 Attendees

Optimism and opportunity abounded at the PDAC 2016 Convention of The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada in spite of recent industry challenges...

March 3, 2016

6 Alpha Launches EOD Contracting Division

6 Alpha Associates, a specialist risk consultancy practice, with expertise in the assessment and management of unexploded ordnance, has launched a dedicated explosive ordnance disposal division...

Redefining the search space for minerals

by Dan Zlotnikov on June 4, 2012 expertise

The Earth Explorer team recently viewed a presentation by Campbell McCuaig, Professor and Director at Australia’s Centre for Exploration Targeting (CET), on the challenges facing today’s exploration companies – and, by extension, the mining industry as a whole. McCuaig and other colleagues have told the same troubling story many times before. The presentation begins with the certainty that: The world’s mining industry is facing a worsening resource gap, and unless industry leaders take steps now, the industry’s future is under threat.

The reasons for concern are plain: The amount being extracted has outstripped new discoveries at the same time as demand for commodities is predicted to keep growing. Addressing the shortfall is going to require significant changes in the way the industry operates – and according to McCuaig, these changes have been slow in coming.

Depletion of the traditional search space

The need for new finds is undeniable: McCuaig pointed out that copper demand for 2006-2030 is projected to exceed the sum total of all copper produced in human history up to that point. The situation is generally similar in other commodities, he said.

An underlying cause, McCuaig explained, is the ongoing depletion of the industry’s traditional search space.

“Mankind, over thousands of years, has become pretty good at finding an ore body if it sticks out of the ground,” he said. The largest deposits nearest to the surface are easiest to discover, meaning the trend has been one of huge returns for the first explorers in an area and a steady decline in the value of subsequent, brownfields, discoveries.

McCuaig added that as an area gets mined out, new discoveries aren’t just smaller and lower in quality – they’re also more costly to find in the first place: In the 1960s, $1 of exploration investment returned an average of $105 in discovered gold. By the 2000s, that $1 only averaged an $11 return – despite gold prices rising from $400 to $900/oz. The same loss of exploration effectiveness is seen across all metals.

Despite the rising cost and diminishing return, the trend has been in favour of brownfields projects, at the expense of greenfields funding. At a success rate of below 1%, greenfields projects are much riskier investments than brownfields, causing investors to shy away. McCuaig pointed to this brownfields bias at the expense of greenfields exploration as one of the major reasons for the industry’s current difficulties. He also pointed out that rising commodity prices alone are not a panacea for bridging the resource gap by bringing on lower quality marginal resources – such projects are continually challenged.

Looking deeper undercover

So what can the industry do to address the shortfall? CET’s proposed solution, and research focus, is redefining the search space: looking deeper undercover.

The problem with this is cost: Not only will a discovery require greater outlay, you will have to pay more to even make the attempt. This is a major challenge, said McCuaig, but not an insurmountable one: Just look at how the Gulf of Mexico changed in the last 50 years.

“If  you talk to oil people, they didn’t even believe that there were reasonable deposits deep in the basin,” he said.  “So there was a conceptual leap, from ‘why even bother to look there’ to ‘how are we going to visualize it?’”Today, the Gulf holds some of the largest offshore oil fields in existence.

McCuaig said the mining industry is poised at the same crossroads as the oil industry was 30 years ago. Today’s high commodity prices provide incentive for investment in innovation. It’s this innovation that holds the key to bringing down the cost of making new, deeper, discoveries and securing future resource supplies.

Exploration under cover will be in areas blind to many of the industries standard detection technologies. While  improved sensing technologies will allow us to look deeper, the added cost means these technologies must be deployed more selectively. The challenge, then, is identifying worthy targets for in-depth exploration, and doing so at a regional scale. McCuaig’s presentation described three approaches: An integrated 3D model using geophysics data (seismic, gravity, aeromagnetic), stratigraphic and structural mapping was analysed by a human expert-driven mineral systems approach, a conceptual computer-driven approach and an empirical computer-calculated correlation between predictor maps and known gold showings.

While none of the approaches eliminate uncertainty, the combination of all three allows for better, more accurate targeting, says McCuaig. Of course, there is plenty of room to further refine these techniques – or develop entirely new ones.

One organization working toward that goal is the CET itself: Established in 2005 as a partnership between the Government of Western Australia, the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, and members of the mineral exploration industry, the CET conducts international research and applied projects aimed at developing better exploration targeting models and new technology packages for predicting deposits. The Centre has highlighted greenfields-related research as a focus, aiding current and future industry efforts to look deeper.

Related Articles:
Balancing the risk and rewards in greenfields exploration