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Money really does GROW ON TREES say boffins

Who needs big data when you can find gold leaf on trees?

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In an outlying suburb of the Australian capital, Canberra, lies an enormous warehouse filled with over 100,000 data tapes. The warehouse is owned by Geoscience Australia (GA), which keeps a copy of every mine survey every conducted in Australia.

Back in 2005 GA embarked on an epic project to re-platform its old tape archive, comprising over 400,000 tapes in all manner of old formats. One reason for the project was increasing demand from “data miners” who were keen to go prospecting with modern computing kit in the hope of striking it rich by conducting intensive analysis of old survey data.

GA's often mentioned in storage circles as a fine example of how to archive data, and a big data case study.

The organisation's former role remains unchallenged. Big data folks may have a bit less to latch on to after Australian boffins found a link between the composition of foliage and minerals below the soil.

Detailed in Nature, which carries a paper titled Natural gold particles in Eucalyptus leaves and their relevance to exploration for buried gold deposits, the boffins compared trees in greenhouses where soil was doped with gold and trees in the wild near known near known gold deposits.

The results were similar in both populations, leading the scientists to feel confident stating there's a good link between the quantity of gold in a leaf and the quantity of gold underground.

The paper says the experiment was worth doing because “New Au [gold] discoveries are down by 45% over the last 10 years,” which suggests “Novel exploration techniques are required to find the more difficult deposits hidden beneath sediments.”

They're not wrong: some gold mines quite happy to work deposits where just five grams of gold can be found in each ton of ore, but anything that makes gold easier to find is welcome.

If miners can simply pluck some leaves from trees and send them to a lab for analysis, that may well be a cheaper and easier way of doing some initial prospecting than schlepping tools out into the field to retrieve a weightier sample. It may also be less hassle and expense than borrowing some of GA's tapes and firing up a hadoop cluster, although once the foliage has been harvested it's hard to imagine miners won't also take a leaf from the big data playbook as they try to make more green folding stuff. ®

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