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Mineral Exploration: Expectation vs Reality

Through knowing a number of geologists, I’ve come to learn a few things about mineral exploration. Although it is generally acknowledged that earth science is important, and hence those who understand the science of the earth would be expected to be rich, this I am afraid is not normally the case. Some geologists who have specialized in mineral exploration are rich, but most are not. Here are some expectations about mineral exploration that can be ruined whenever reality decides to kick in.

1. Mineral exploration always leads to a mine

Since minerals are important to humans, it is just a matter of looking and they will be found.

Unfortunately, mineral exploration typically results in failure.

Even if minerals are discovered, they are not necessarily dug out of the ground. The reason is that mining and extraction of the mineral from the ore is expensive. If the cost of extraction is more than its value, it will not be mined. Most of the time this is what happens.

2. It is easy to discover minerals

If you have the right people and techniques you will find a deposit.

Yes and no.
Science reduces the probability of spending money in the wrong location. However, it is still a matter of chance. The use of the right geological techniques, however, will significantly increase the chances for success.

3. Who is the largest producer of iron ore?

It is Australia, or more precisely Western Australia.

No, it is China. Although China produces the most iron ore in the world it still needs a lot more for its iron and steel plants. Australia is second followed by Brazil.

4. What is the material most mined in the world?

Either iron ore or coal would be expected to be mined the most.

No, it is aggregate (sand and gravel) that is critical for construction. Where people life and work, infrastructure is required and infrastructure requires aggregate (sand and gravel). The modern world is built upon aggregate and every country in the world mines aggregate. Great Britain is not thought of mining country, however, each year it produces over 300 million tonnes of aggregate needed for infrastructure. The price of aggregate is however, very low compared to other commodities and its value is often related to proximity of where it will be used.

5. What is the most important mineral, without which, human life would not survive?

Some may say salt – needed for its dietary benefits, others may say iron ore for car production, bridges and buildings.

Clay. This mineral is critical for soils. Able to absorb elements and water, clay within soils gives them the ability to retain water and elements to grow plants and food for humans and animals. Fertiliser chemicals, such as potash, phosphate and lime, are also important for agricultural soils. For example, lime is critical for the Ca-poor soils in the Wheatbelt regions of Western Australia.

6. What is the best technique to find minerals?

Geochemistry – the analysis for the mineral you are exploring for.

There is no single answer to this. Geochemistry is important, but as is geophysics, as well as rock-type association, structural setting, remote sensing, and drilling.

7. Have all the major mineral deposits been found?

Yes, the probability of finding another Kalgoolie, Broken Hill or Mt Isa is extremely small.

No, most of the huge mineral deposits that occur on the surface have probably been found, however, there are “blind” deposits that are just beneath the surface that are still to be discovered. This is where modern exploration methods are so important.

Deposits that are covered younger rocks, deep soil profiles or sands within the deserts of Australia still have weak signals, such as alternation haloes and geophysical signatures and can act as vectors to their existence. It is through these and many other techniques the buried huge deposits in Australia and elsewhere will be discovered.

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