Every once in a while a post comes across my LinkedIn feed that claims that there is only one way to find a mineral deposit: boots on the ground. Period. Full stop. This is the way.
But, how do they decide where to put their boots and what happens to all the information collected from boots being on the ground?
Because typically ...
Mines are found in the office and discovered in the field.
There is a lot of preparatory work involved in creating a streamlined and fruitful exploration program. Ask any successful prospector and their winters are often spent pouring over historical reports, maps, and even anecdotal accounts. In the spring, they will have a very good idea of exactly where to go. Often, however, too many exploration programs fall short when the season is over because we are trained to only be, or only, interested in the samples that return large assay values in the commodity that we were looking for while most of the other data collected is published in a report and archived.
How are mines found in the office?
Before boots are on the ground:
Decide on a commodity and note any possible associated commodities.
Choose a very broad region based on the most likely geological setting of the commodities.
Do a risk assessment based on jurisdiction, potential social and environmental encumbrances, and access.
Compile and evaluate regional data using sound scientific methods and generate broad target areas.
Do a local risk assessment based on nearby community politics, potential social and environmental encumbrances, and access.
Compile and evaluate local historical data of the broad target areas using sound scientific methods and find prime target areas suitable for boots-on-the-ground.
Stake the claims based on the prime target areas and the risk assessment.
Write up the background information and draft maps for the assessment report: location, access, physiography, climate, history, property status & ownership, adjacent projects, geology, and proposed deposit model(s).
Develop an exploration program that is suitable for the terrain and which will evaluate the entire area of interest not just where the previous explorers found something.
Apply for necessary permits and send out local land user notifications.
After boots are on the ground:
Compile and evaluate the current data using sound scientific methods.
Compare the evaluation with the proposed deposit model(s) and adjust the target areas and the model(s) as needed.
Complete the assessment report and keep the project in good standing.
Merge the historical data with the newly acquired data using sound scientific methods. Use this evaluation to prioritize target areas and to identify new target areas. Keep data organized for future due diligence requests from potential investors.
Keep up to date on local and regional politics, potential social and environmental encumbrances, and access.
Develop the next exploration program, suitable for the terrain, by working in more detail on target areas and to better define the area of interest in preparation for expanding the project's land position.
Apply for necessary permits and update local land users.
Evaluate whether to keep, sell/option, or drop the project and promote as needed.
How are mines discovered in the field? I.E., Boots on the Ground
Share the latest assessment report, or a synopsis, with all the crew so that everyone with eyes knows what to look for even if they're not part of the sampling team.
Always take a sample. Not all mineralization is visible and not every sample needs to be sent to the lab. Ensure all documentation is captured for every sample regardless of who collects it.
Follow sound scientific sample and data collection/management/quality control practices.
Implement the exploration plan and give team members some time to follow their instincts and take the time to listen to their ideas.
Evaluate the datasets, using sound scientific practices, as they're captured and adjust the exploration program as needed. Keep the entire crew updated so that everyone with eyes knows what to look for even if they're not part of the sampling team.
Take extra special notice of anywhere you stop to have lunch and strive to collect that sample that is in the most awkward of places like a piece of outcrop poking out of a swamp (which was my first BC MINFILE occurrence that also happened to be during my first field season in BC), and that very mossy boulder shaded by trees, but always be safe first.
If someone spent half the day chipping out the best parts of a tiny vein to try to win the highest grade sample of the season contest, then include that information in the notes. Knowing the elements associated with the highest grades is valuable information to point to where to look for more, and possibly larger, systems but it's going to waste valuable time and money to send out a team to map and channel sample.
If someone panned a stream sediment sample to get a high grade, then make sure it's in the notes as a panned concentrate sample. Those little, or big, gold nuggets can be evaluated for their morphology to determine a possible source and distance, but valuable time can be wasted hiking up a creek for gold veins that may just be a product of something that weathered away a long time ago.
Ensure the representative samples match what is going to be sent to the lab. Sometimes it's difficult to get a good representative sample, but the broken pieces being sent to the lab should be similar to the solid chunk kept for reference or there's the risk that the assay values are not representative of the reference sample by either being smaller or larger than the mineralization represented leading to an area being dropped or, alternatively, being sent on a wild goose chase.
It's somewhat of an outdated or romanticized or cowboyish notion to think that mines are found by wandering around the wilderness. There is a lot of land out there and there can be a lot of vegetation covering the land which makes it very difficult to visually spot zones of mineralized rock. We've come a long way from the early days of industrial-era mineral exploration and now have access to many open-access datasets, tools, and methods at our fingertips to ensure successful and environmentally-sound exploration programs. It takes a lot of things to come together in the right way and at the right time, and not just geologically speaking, for a project to develop into a mine. Ensuring the field and office are working together, in unison, will significantly increase the likelihood of converting a mineral exploration project into a mine.
Need help getting your exploration programs back on track to discoveries, then contact us!
About the Author
Dr. Diana Benz has over 25 years of experience working in the mineral exploration industry searching for diamonds and metals in a range of roles: from heavy minerals lab technician to till sampler, rig geologist, project manager and business owner/lead consultant. She has a Bachelor of Science in General Biology, a Master of Science in Earth Sciences researching diamond indicator mineral geochemistry, and a PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies using geochemical multivariate statistical analysis techniques to interpret biogeochemical data for mineral exploration. Diana has conducted fieldwork in Canada (BC, NWT, YT and ON) as well as in Greenland. She has also been involved, remotely through a BC-based office, in mineral exploration projects located in South America, Africa, Eurasia, Australia and the Middle East. Currently, Diana is the owner of Takom Exploration Ltd., a small geological and environmental firm focused on metal exploration in BC and the Yukon.