Exploring for deeply buried ore deposits is much like trying to detect a deeply submerged submarine at sea. Submarines and ore deposits are both difficult enough to find even when on the surface, but submerging the submarine under water and burying the ore deposit under other rocks makes them detectable only by geophysical techniques (e.g., subtle variations in the Earth's magnetic or gravitational field, subtle changes in temperature) or geochemical techniques (e.g., subtle variations in the geochemistry of soils or vegetation). However, just as a submarine may physically and thermally disturb a layer of water around it's hull, ore deposits physically, chemically, and thermally disturb the rocks around them to varying degrees as they form and are modified by later geological processes, with each characteristic having a different sized "footprint". The deeper the submarine or ore deposit, the weaker the geophysical signal and the more subtle the footprint.
This research network, which is undertaking the largest mineral exploration research project ever run in Canada, aims to improve our knowledge of the footprints of ore deposits. It involves 42 researchers from 24 universities across Canada and 30 Canadian mining, mining service, and software companies, and is being supported with $13M in cash and cash-equivalent in-kind funding from the Exploration Innovation Consortium of the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC-EIC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada Collaborative Research and Development (NSERC-CRD) program.
The key objectives of the research program are to:
1) Enhance the ability of the Canadian mining industry to recognize the entire "footprint" of an ore deposit from its high-grade (minable) core to most distant cryptic margin (which if deeply buried is the only part detectable on the surface)
2) Develop methods that truly integrate (not just layer) the wide range of complex geological, structural, lithologic, mineralogical, geochemical, petrophysical, and geophysical data that define the "footprint" of an ore deposit
3) Formalize methodologies for how specialists in each of those areas need to interact in order to accomplish these goals
The ultimate goal of the research network is to develop methods to expand the resource base in Canada and to develop new technologies for detection of ever-more subtle targets, giving Canadian mining companies an edge in exploration for deeply covered ore bodies.