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Australia urges miners to become data miners

New electromagnetic survey offers a chance to go deep with big data

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Australia is offering mining companies new data sources they can use to find mineral deposits that cannot be detected by prospecting on the surface of the earth.

The data comes from Geoscience Australia (GA), the agency charged with collecting and publishing geoscientific data. GA has for many years collected all mining surveys conducted in Australia under legislation that insists those issued exploration licenses lodge a copy of their data with that agency, under a license that allows open access and re-use. That requirement saw GA accumulate millions of computer tapes and, over the last few years, conduct a massive re-platforming effort to migrate data to larger, faster and more modern media.

One reason for that project is the emerging practice of digital prospecting, which sees exploration companies use today’s computing power to analyse data that was once too voluminous and/or complex for anything but the largest and unreasonably expensive computers.

GA now hopes that digital prospectors can use today’s technology to take advantage of new data sets it has published, including one Australia’s first large-scale airborne electromagnetic data surveys.

The reason for the new survey is a perception that Australia is no longer a mineral explorer’s paradise, because all the rich or easy-to-dig deposits have been found. Those deposits are already bringing Australia extraordinary wealth. Several tens of billions of investment dollars are already flowing to new mining projects, thanks to Chinese and Indian demand for commodities that have inflated prices. The resulting boom is one reason Australia was touched only lightly by the global financial crisis, instead enjoying largely unbroken growth.

Ensuring the mining industry continues to attract investment is therefore a no-brainer.

To keep interest in Australia as an exploration destination high, GA is now pointing out that most of Australia’s current mining projects come from the result of observations on the planet’s surface.

GA’s CEO Dr Chris Pigram gave a speech to a mining conference this week to promote the notion of digging deeper, into both data and the earth.

"The quality data, along with the improved knowledge of Australia's continental structure and advances in exploration and mining techniques, have created unprecedented opportunities to explore areas under the surface cover material," Pigram said.

Ollie Raymond, Section Leader of GA’s National Geological Maps and Data Standards team, says the reason for the speech and the new data collections is “A perception that there’s not much left to find. What we are trying to say is that the vast majority of geology is not visible to the hidden eye. It is covered by dirt or sand dunes, or old rocks covered by younger rocks,” he says. “You need to look through those using all sorts of remote techniques and drilling to infer what is beneath.”

By making richer data available, GA hopes to entice miners to do more exploration work.

“Mining companies know they need to become data miners,” Raymond says. “We can now say to them that there is a lot of really good data and it is worth putting in more effort to look through the cover of Australia.”

GA uses specialist geoscience data software for its analyses. Quite what mining companies will use is uncertain. But one thing you can bank on is that lots of data will be involved. GA recently tendered for 50 petabytes of storage and is reportedly growing its data collection by 50% each year. ®

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