Dr Richard Blewett:
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to discover near-surface mineral resources in Australia. New and innovative products and techniques are being developed as part of the UNCOVER Initiative to help attract mineral exploration investment that has the potential to lead to the discovery of new resources.”
One of the focus regions for the UNCOVER Initiative is the Thomson Orogen: “The Thomson Orogen is a large area that lies to the north and west of the Lachlan Orogen in New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. Much of it is under the cover of younger sedimentary basins, with some up to several kilometres thick, and it is therefore a poorly understood element of Australia’s geology.
The southern Thomson Orogen is true ‘greenfields’ country. Although the mineral potential of the region is largely unknown, the northeastern Thomson Orogen (for example Thalanga, Charters Towers) and the similar-aged Lachlan Orogen to the south are well mineralised (for example Cadia, Northparkes, Lake Cowall Cobar). In order to attract exploration investment into the southern Thomson Orogen, and also to improve the geological understanding of the area, Geoscience Australia, the Geological Survey of Queensland and the Geological Survey of New South Wales have commenced a collaborative project to collect new (and synthesise existing) pre-competitive data.
One of the first steps in this collaboration is to acquire airborne and ground geophysical data including airborne electromagnetics (AEM), gravity and magnetotelluric (MT) data. Regional AEM data has now been collected to map cover thickness and assess the geology and prospectivity of the Southern Thomson Orogen across the New South Wales-Queensland border around Hungerford and Eulo. These data will be interpreted using existing borehole stratigraphic data and a new solid geology compilation of the region developed between Geoscience Australia, the Geological Survey of Queensland and the Geological Survey of New South Wales.
The Geotech VTEM FullWaveForm
airborne electromagnetic acquisition
system used in the Southern Thomson
Orogen airborne electromagnetics survey.
Image credit: Geotech Airborne Limited.
Geoscience Australia is a leading promoter of AEM surveying for regional mapping of cover thickness, under-cover basement geology and sedimentary basin architecture. Geoscience Australia flew three regional AEM surveys during the 2006-11 Onshore Energy Security Program (OESP): Paterson (Western Australia, 2007-08); Pine Creek-Kombolgie (Northern Territory, 2009); and Frome (South Australia, 2010) . The surveys were primarily designed to provide reliable, fit-for-purpose pre-competitive AEM data for mapping critical features of uranium mineral systems.
Results from these surveys have now produced a new understanding of the architecture of critical mineral system elements and mineral prospectivity for a wide range of commodities of these regions and includes details on the thickness and character of the regolith, sedimentary basins and buried basement terrains. The data have since been found suitable not just for uranium, but for mapping a range of other mineral systems including gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc and potash, as well as for under-cover geological mapping and groundwater resource estimation.
The survey data are now processed using the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) facility at the Australian National University to produce GIS-ready interpretation products and GOCADTM objects suitable for 3D modelling.
A number of 3D models are being developed to interpret the near-surface under-cover geology of cratons and mobile zones, the unconformity surfaces between these and the overlying sedimentary basins, and the architecture of those basins. These models are constructed primarily from AEM data using stratigraphic borehole control and show how AEM data can be used to map the cross-over area between surface geological mapping, stratigraphic drilling and seismic reflection mapping. These models can be used by minerals explorers to more confidently explore in areas of shallow to moderate sedimentary basin cover by providing more accurate cover thickness and depth to target information. A 3D model of basement-cover relationships and depth of cover will be developed for the southern Thomson Orogen.”