North West Queensland (NWQ) contains an estimated 75 percent of the state’s total metalliferous resources – including zinc, lead, silver and copper – making it one of the richest and most mature exploration provinces globally.
Despite this, much of the land beyond Mount Isa and Cloncurry – areas renowned for their generous mineral deposits – remains under-explored, due to surficial cover and a relative lack of geoscientific data.
But this may soon be about to change.
Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, the Geological Survey of Queensland has been working to improve understanding of the region through a series of geophysical, geochemical and geological data acquisition programs; as well as regional mapping and sampling programs to test new exploration techniques and geological models.
“Away from outcropping areas, there is really sparse data coverage in NWQ, leaving vast tracts of land we know next to nothing about,” said Director of Mineral Geoscience, Dr. Helen Degeling.
“We are working to gain a better understanding of geology and depth of cover; and produce data sets that will create new opportunities in those hidden areas.”
No stone unturned
To this end, the GSQ has flown a number of high-resolution magnetic and gravity surveys to identify new mineral hotspots; and has plans to fly further magnetic, gravity and electromagnetic surveys in various parts of the North West Minerals Province.
This complements the organisation’s efforts to better characterise rocks and acquire data for explorers to open up areas that are near known mineralisation, but under-explored due to the amount of cover.
In addition, GSQ is measuring conductivity properties within the earth, through a series of magnetotelluric (MT) surveys.
“This is a tool that is increasingly being used by explorers in covered areas,” said Dr. Degeling. “We are excited to be doing this work. Our previous large-scale MT survey has attracted large multinational companies, like Anglo American, to pick up vast tracks of land, south of Mt. Isa.”
Strong petroleum and mineral potential
Recent data gathered, and currently being processed, shows evidence for petroleum potential in the NWQ region.
“Mineral drilling in the Georgina Basin reported evidence of hydrocarbons in rocks at 200-960 meters depth,” said Dr. Degeling.
Further petroleum potential has also been revealed in the Isa Superbasin, further north and defined by petroleum explorers.
These findings prompted the GSQ to develop a 3D model of depth to basement (SEEBASE) and embark on a 2D seismic survey in the Camooweal region, which has recently been completed.
“We are currently working through data processing from the seismic survey. This new data will help us define the basin structure and clarify basin extents,” she added.
“This region really is a new frontier for gas exploration. Our programs aim to create opportunities for the potential development of a new style of resource in the north west.”
On the minerals side, the northwest is dominated by base metals, like copper, lead and zinc; but is also seeing an increase in cobalt and polymetallic resources.
“The Walford Creek Project owned by Aeon Metals promises to be one of Australia’s largest hard-rock cobalt deposits,” said Dr. Degeling. “Other explorers, hoping to emulate Aeon’s success, have been re-examining copper deposits for cobalt potential, which has until now been ignored.”
Meanwhile, the potential rare earth endowment of the north west is hopeful and bringing in new explorers, such as Heathgate Resources.
Looking to the future
Despite the strong progress made, Dr. Degeling says there’s still more that needs to be done.
“We’re working hard to better understand the hydrocarbon system and gas potential of the Isa Superbasin and the Georgina Basin. Not only that, we are making it a priority to define the geology and structures under cover that will attract mineral explorers to under-explored areas,” she said.
The GSQ is also running the Collaborative Exploration Initiative, now in its twelfth year. This is a funding program run by the state of Queensland, whereby companies can apply for grants to get government support for exploration activities. “These grants support mineral exploration in greenfield areas or the testing of novel approaches or new ideas,” she added.
Finally, the GSQ recently embarked on a largescale data modernisation project which aims to put the organisation at the forefront of digital enablement and data science worldwide.
“We strive to be a world leader in the data work that we’re doing,” said Dr. Degeling. “We are moving to a data lake concept where we will ensure that data is not only available, but also catalogued and curated in a way that can enable intelligent searches.
“We are setting the scene for a future where machine learning and artificial intelligence are as much a part of the explorers toolkit as traditional geology.”
Dr. Helen Degeling will talk more about the work of GSQ Geologists at the North West Queensland Minerals & Energy Conference, due to take place 6-7 November 2019.
Learn more and register here.