Researchers in Memorial University’s Department of Earth Sciences are among those from 16 other universities and 24 leading mining companies across Canada to benefit from the largest Collaborate Research and Development grant ever awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
The $5.1 million investment towards the $12 million project will support a pan-Canadian research partnership to innovate the country’s mining industry. The five-year project will involve in-depth research on three specific areas, a gold deposit in Quebec, a uranium deposit in Saskatchewan and a copper deposit in British Columbia. The hope is after this five-year term, researchers will spend another term on deposits in three new areas.
Dr. Steve Piercey and Dr. Colin Farquharson are research partners on the project, which is hoped to increase exploration success rates.
Dr. Piercey says the idea for the project was born in 2006 when some of the country’s mining visionaries got together to figure out a way to keep Canadian mining and exploration research from getting left behind.
“Canada and Australia are the leaders in mining and mineral exploration globally, and Australia had been putting all kinds of money into projects called predictive mineral research centres,” he explained. “These stalwarts of the Canadian mining companies decided that if we didn’t start putting our heads together we were going to be outmoded.”
From that idea the Canadian Mining Innovation Council was born, with interests in exploration, development, drilling technology, mining and clean up.
“They wanted industry oriented research where the questions were coming from industry, but researchers in universities, government, people in industry and services providers would work together to come up with unique solutions to the problems,” said Dr. Piercey.
Dr. Piercey and Dr. Farquharson became involved in one particular aspect of the project, the footprints exploration group, which was hoping to create a new model for exploration.
“When we are trying to find new resources there is a footprint of that deposit and the environment around it,” said Dr. Piercey. “The idea of this project is we are trying to understand what a deposit looks like physically, chemically and geologically right at the deposit, 100 metres away, 200 metres away, etc.”
“Picture an archery target,” adds Dr. Farquharson. “The deposit is the yellow circle in the middle and there are different colour circles coming out from it. From a geophysical perspective we might do a survey and get data that suggests that we are not right over the bullseye, but we don't really know which of those coloured bands we're in, in other words, how far from the target we are.”
Dr. Farquharson says since researchers already know the physical properties of the actual deposit, if have data from right over the top they’d know exactly where they were, but they know a lot less about how to recognize how far away from a discovery they might be.
“If you are way off to the side, where there is only a slight alteration or variation, we don't know what the effect there will be on the physical properties,” he said. “So we are trying to understand all the physical properties in the area, not just the stuff right in the middle over the deposit.”
The footprints exploration group is trying to create a unified picture by bringing together the disparate geological, geochemical and physical data collected by researchers, to give mining companies a greater ability to recognize the subtle differences in the information collected around an ore deposit and more accurately pinpoint its actual location.
“What's unique is that we researchers usually work in silos,” said Dr. Piercey. “The key here is that we are talking to one another to create integrated data sets with geologists, geophysicts, and so on collecting data on the same samples in the same locations, working together and co-supervising students. It has never been done this way before and it’s a major change in thought.”