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The challenge

Cost-effective exploration in covered terrain

Regolith and sedimentary cover effectively masks around 80 per cent of Australia's bedrock where potential mineral deposits lie, making exploration challenging and expensive.

But explorers can use this cover to their advantage to find deposits deep below.

A wide range of techniques and sample media are already widely used with success, but integrating these into a cover framework will greatly improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Further research is also needed to investigate the potential for other sample media to identify deposits.

Our response

New methods being applied by the exploration industry

Our focus is showing explorers how to use cover materials to discover orebodies.

Soil, vegetation, groundwater, interfaces and host minerals near the surface can contain geochemical signatures of orebodies deeper below.

We're developing new sampling media and workflows for deeply covered terrains by understanding the landscape history, mineralogy of weathering and past and present climates of metal transportation.

Our breakthroughs in the 1980s led to laterite and calcrete sampling that helped locate gold deposits worth more than $12 billion. In the 2000s, we identified how metal migrates through the cover to form geochemical signatures of orebodies.

We have also developed groundwater, vegetation and termite mound sampling techniques that have led to recent success in the industry.

We are now exploring how other biological resources, such as fungi and gas, could help identify target deposits as well. We are developing detection technologies, such as microbial DNA and passive gas sensors to harness these resources.

We’re also developing tools to explore very deep or challenging cover, such as the interface between in situ and transported cover; iron-oxide-rich gravel within and under sand dunes and Permian sediments.

We've also improved soil sampling techniques to work with ultra-fine soils for use in gold exploration.

Innovative sampling methods for exploration case studies

  • Zinc isotopes found in manganese crust samples of soils and termite mounds in the Pilbara, Western Australia, can be used by mineral explorers to find hidden deposits of critical metals necessary to support the transition to low emission energy technologies.

  • The discovery of gold-coated fungi near Boddington in Western Australia may offer clues for finding new gold deposits.

  • We discovered that gold grows in eucalyptus (gum) trees. Traces of precious metals in the gum leaves may be an indicator for the presence of ore deposits deep underground.

  • Analysing ultra-fine particles in soil is helping mineral explorers cost-effectively survey vast areas and hone in on new prospective targets.

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