distal footprints Project

The Distal Footprints of Giant Ore Systems

Australia is an old continent with much of its remaining mineral endowment obscured by a thick cover of weathered rock, sediment and soil materials. This presents a critical challenge for mineral exploration now and into the future, as the industry currently lacks the fundamental data, scientific knowledge and technological tools needed to discover new, world-class ore deposits buried deep under this cover.

Aligning with the Australian Academy of Sciences UNCOVER initiative to boost exploration geosciences research in Australia, and the Federal Government's National Exploration Strategy, the distal footprints of giant ore systems project was launched in August. This collaboration between CSIRO, UWA (through the Centre for Exploration Targeting), Curtin University, the Geological Survey of Western Australia, The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems and in partnership with the exploration industry and the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, aims to address the key technical risks impeding future greenfield exploration.

The key to discovering new resources under cover is the ability to detect and recognise the distal footprints of deep giant ore systems. This Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) supported four-year collaborative project (with a total lifetime value of $16 million) will create a distal footprints 'toolkit', an inter-related suite of tools (know-how, methodologies, new field and laboratory analysis techniques) useful for practical exploration in areas of cover. The toolkit will create an exploration workflow, that greatly assists with the process of exploration targeting and the application to field campaigns.

The toolkit will bring new data, new interpretations, new understandings and new technologies to help discover mineral wealth deep under cover, opening up new exploration frontiers and improving mineral exploration decision making in the Australian context. It will assist with developing mineral exploration technologies and processes to identify the telltale 'footprints' or signatures of deposits under covered terrain, inevitably increasing exploration success.
In the first instance the project will focus on the Capricorn region of WA, a poorly explored and poorly understood region, with potential mineralisation largely under thick cover. The project is assembling a collaborative multidisciplinary team of around 17 researchers and research students to "deconstruct" this area of crust to better identify and characterise the very distal signatures of major ore deposits, and improve their detection against regional background signatures.

Using a 3D and 4D knowledge of the crust to define prospective areas in a region, and helping to define appropriate sampling and testing methodologies of the cover, will detect mineralisation signatures within it, potentially identifying where you are spatially in the distal footprint of an economic ore system that could become a mine.

This approach is unique within Australia, and the team aim to eventually provide geophysical data sets and interpretative map products across the area, a field guide to the area, an assessment of mineralogical, chemical, geophysical and geological indicators that can be used as predictive indicators for mineral exploration, and a consistent approach to dealing with cover as an exploration challenge.

Gaining insight into the detection and recognition of distal footprints related to giant ore systems in the Capricorn region will eventually also have implications for similar mineral-prospective environments across Australia, in areas of weathering or deep cover.

Airborne electron magnetic geophysical survey area
Airborne electron magnetic geophysical survey area for depth of cover mapping across the Capricorn study area

For further information please contact:

Rob Hough, rob.hough@csiro.au, (08) 6436 8763

Related links

Distal Footprints Toward Impact Brochure

Image source: CSIRO