A new ‘water tasting’ approach developed by CSIRO may help mining companies more accurately pinpoint reserves of valuable minerals.
Researchers have discovered broad haloes of altered water chemistry around known deposits of gold, uranium, and other minerals where interaction with the ore systems has left distinctive traces in the water.
The studies, supported by the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, saw CSIRO researcher Dr Nathan Reid lead a team of scientists analysing samples of groundwater from the Capricorn region in WA.
“Groundwater penetrates through covering sediments and interacts directly with the bedrock, dissolving trace amounts of the minerals present into solution,” Dr Reid said.
“By sampling those waters, our instruments can essentially ‘taste’ the geology they have come into contact with.
“Where the underlying rocks contain a valuable ore deposit, the chemical flavour of that mineralisation extends much further than the concentrated mineralisation itself – just like a teaspoon of salt can make a whole glass of water taste salty.”
These haloes of altered water chemistry could help geologists identify areas where other ore deposits might still lie hidden below the surface, helping to focus mineral exploration in the right areas.
Chemical anomalies identified in groundwater from sediment-covered areas of the study region have already stimulated further exploration investment from companies seeking to identify undiscovered mineral deposits.
MRIWA chief executive officer Nicole Roocke welcomed the findings, published in MRIWA report M0436 this week.
“The innovative work in this project by scientists across CSIRO, the Centre for Exploration Targeting and Curtin University will play an important role in encouraging mining industry investment in under-explored areas of Western Australia,” Ms Roocke said.
The technical report summarising the findings of this research can be found at Distal Footprint of Giant Ore Systems: Capricorn WA Case Study .