Richard Roberts, HighGrade | Aug 09, 2013
Richard Roberts of HighGrade.net asked mineral industry geology professionals, including Scott Halley and Jun Cowan, to identify significant skills deficits in Australia. This is their response.
TECHNOLOGY is seen as a key weapon in the 21st century geoscience professional’s armoury but can also most certainly be a double-edged sword, as highlighted in HighGrade.net
’s discussions with several experienced industry practitioners.
Asked to identify significant skills deficits in the industry in Australia, in the wake of recent prominent news about major exploration job and spending cuts, some of the country’s most experienced geoscientists nominated basic field logging work and mapping, resource estimation and modelling, geospatial data analysis, understanding and appraising geology and mineral deposits in 3D, and applying geochemistry to exploration along with the use of multi-elemental geochemistry in a range of areas.
To this list the likes of Orefind’s Jun Cowan, and Mineral Mapping’s Scott Halley, among others, would definitely add structural geological theory and application. And yes, that’s the business they’re in, so why wouldn’t they?
“Being a geologist in the minerals industry who is ignorant of structural geology is like a doctor who has not studied human anatomy,” Cowan said.
Clearly it’s already a pretty extensive list – and that’s before the range of new skills required to put to good use current and emerging technologies are added.
“The obvious thing to say is that we need more training in basic field geology, but what is the point; even with more training in the basics, geologists will not spend more time using those skills,” Halley said. “The reality is that more of the data collection is going to be outsourced. In terms of training then the best value is in learning to make the best use of the available data. To do this we need to understand the fundamentals – structural geology, geophysics, geochemistry and data visualisation.
“Advances are being driven by increasing computing power, collecting orders of magnitude more data, orders of magnitude better data, and providing the ability to interpret, display and model that data with incredible speed.”
Halley sees more changes on the way, such as automated, quantitative logging based on multi-element geochemical and spectral techniques – doing away with some aspects of subjective geologist logging; automated petrophysical property logging; and implicit geological modelling. Geologists are not getting enough old-fashioned geological field training
(image source: outdooradvanture.co.uk
Other areas in which new or emerging technology is both presenting the industry with challenges, and helping to unlock geological, geotechnical, geochemical and geometallurgical riddles, include:
- Down-hole tools and new drilling technologies.
- Direct geological modelling from drill-holes to block models (bypassing wireframes). It was pointed out that 3D seismic is already there as an example, and “a step in the right direction”, but that there would likely be other new techniques that might partially replace direct drill-hole sampling.
- Advances in mineralogy, geometallurgy and processing, and their application in resource estimation, project evaluation and development.
- Moves toward remote assessment of data, but also more on-site and real-time data collection (via portable XRF and other tools) and analysis tied to deeper exploration targeting and drilling.
- Integration of different datasets, such as geochemistry and mineralogy (from spectral and XRD data), remote sensing, geophysics and geological observations to produce better models.
- Greater application of advanced computing technologies for rapid interrogation of large quantities of data.
“Geologists will have to become adept at computer skills – they can no longer survive without them,” said AMC Consultants senior geologist Michael McShane.
“They must know about GIS – no company can continue exploring without good GIS skills at its disposal; resource modelling software; databases, etc. They will inherit computer databases compiled by exploration companies that will become open-file in the next 5-10 years.
“Field data capture is rapidly evolving with the age of the computer, GPS and hand-held PDAs. Geophysics is also evolving rapidly through the use of acoustic scanners, 3D seismic, electric field methods such as IP, etc.
“The main stream of a geo’s career will always be there. That is, graduate, do field works, gain experience, get into supervisory roles then go to consulting or management. However, the computer skills have to be developed along the way now.
“The data is the same, except for some additional data types brought about by the developments in geophysical prospecting. The difference is how it is stored and analysed.”
Another respondent also noted: “Professionals need to know how to treat, manage, interrogate and report on large masses of data. Geoscience professionals also need to be more than scientists – they need to be aware and familiar with the economic implications of their decision making.”
Cowan believes combined geochemistry and structural geology, and resource estimation and structural geology, are not being given the emphasis they should be.
“Structural geology is the key subject,” he said.
“Unfortunately, structural geology is not a current major trend, but we’re trying to push it into mainstream exploration consciousness. The knowledge required for exploration and mining requires position and geometry of mineralisation to be worked out. Virtually every one of the more than 500 deposits that I have examined in the last decade are structurally controlled, therefore everything –alteration, metal distribution, mining issues and even metallurgical characteristics – all depend on knowing the structural character of all mineral deposits.
“If companies and universities are smart, they should be investing a lot of money in basic and applied economic structural geological education and training.
“Currently a structural geology consultant is called in when things go horribly wrong and by that time it is too late for anything to be done.”
Cowan said the use of modern geochemistry to classify rock types was also clearly “the way of the future … but the worry is whether there will be enough skilled people that would be able to do this correctly”.
“My bet is that most will rely on the computer software to automatically classify rocks, or model geology,” he said.
“This will no doubt lead to disasters.”
- Text from HighGrade
. Image inserted by Orefind.