The University of Newcastle, Australia

Research could spur Australia's next gold rush

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A Newcastle researcher has developed a global approach to predicting the best terrains for copper and gold exploration, which could have significant implications for the Australian mining industry.

Professor Bill Collins' research shows a new approach to understanding how the earth works at a global scale with a billion-year perspective, and how that can be used to find valuable minerals today.

"Mining exploration in Australia over the last 25 years has not produced any long-term supplies," Professor Collins said.

"The resources are reducing and demand keeps growing. Australia's continuing prosperity and standard of living requires that we find new, large mineral resources.

"We need to change the exploration paradigm."

Professor Collins' research examines the way the earth was constructed over the last 2000 million years and is using that to constrain the location of potential deposits.

He looks at why continents came together as supercontinents and then drifted away again, leaving deposits of gold and copper along the continental margins.

"The Pacific Rim is the area you will find the most copper and gold now. We can use continental drift and other techniques to track the continents back through time.

"It is like a big jig-saw puzzle, with bits and pieces of continents ripping off one land mass and transferring to another."

The geological information hidden in tiny zircon grains has provided a new way to understand the global-scale picture of where the ancient 'Pacific Rims' were.

"Many of those ancient margins are now within the continental interior. This is where the copper and gold reserves should be hidden," he said.

The major benefit of this 'big-picture' approach is that we can predict prospective terrains underneath the soil and uppermost geological layers of the continent. This cover represents 80 per cent of the continent, so the potential for new discoveries is definitely favourable.

Professor Collins received a $250,000 Australian Research Council Discovery Projects 2012 grant to further his research.

  • Professor Bill Collins
  • Phone: 0439 755 899

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