Unlocking Australia's hidden mineral resource potential
Australia's economic prosperity is highly dependent on the continent's remarkable endowment of mineral and energy resources. Maintaining this prosperity requires effective exploration that leads to new discoveries to provide an ongoing 'pipeline' of resource development. Unfortunately, the percentage of global expenditure for minerals exploration in Australia has declined over the past decade, particularly for non-ferrous commodities and in frontier or greenfield regions. One factor for the decline in expenditure has been the perception that Australia is 'mature', i.e. has limited prospects for big new discoveries.
Most of the existing mineral resource base that has been discovered and developed only occurs from outcropping or near outcropping geology. Such geology comprises approximately 20% of the land area, with the remaining 80% of the continent covered by a veneer of regolith or sediments, much of it only a few hundred metres thick. The fact that prospective rocks lie, for the most part, untested beneath this cover creates a tremendous opportunity for new mineral discoveries.
Geoscience Australia, in collaboration with the state and Northern Territory geological surveys and the research community, will seek to reveal the hidden potential of Australia's buried but prospective geology. The work will involve the acquisition, processing, interpretation and delivery of new pre-competitive geoscience data sets that develop and test geological models and key indicators of mineral resource potential in the subsurface.
The work will be directed at the four inter-related initiatives identified by the National Mineral Exploration Strategy and the Australian Academy of Science, with particular emphasis on the first two.
These initiatives are:
- Characterising Australia's cover - new knowledge to confidently explore beneath the cover.
- Investigating Australia's lithospheric architecture - a whole-of-lithosphere architectural framework for mineral systems exploration.
- Resolving the 4D geodynamic and metallogenic evolution of Australia - understanding ore deposit origins for better prediction.
- Characterising and detecting the distal footprints of ore deposits - towards a toolkit for minerals exploration.
- Regional Drilling Projects
The 'out years'
Negotiations are underway with the state and Northern Territory geological surveys for future regional pre-competitive geoscience activities.
Geoscience Australia will continue to co-invest in a number of greenfield regions, including an annual regional stratigraphic drilling programme. Possible project areas might include the basement geology beneath the onshore Carpentaria Basin in the Northern Territory, the basement to the Eucla Basin and covered parts of the western Gawler Craton in South Australia, the southern extensions of Mt Isa in Queensland and the covered parts in northwest Tasmania.
The AusLAMP magnetotelluric data will continue to be collected and an assessment will be made of the broad-spaced AEM project in the southern Thomson Orogen and its ability to solve the cover depth challenge. A focus will also be made on applying an ensemble of techniques to covered regions in other parts of Australia to determine the most suitable and cost effective methods for determining the depth and character of cover across the diversity of Australian geology.