As we near the end of this disrupted year, we asked University of British Columbia Associate Professor and past Director of Mineral Deposit Research Unit, Craig Hart, how the mineral exploration geologist’s role is changing. Although COVID-19 travel restrictions have meant fewer boots on the ground this year, the pandemic has highlighted other evolving trends.
Broader skillset, shallower expertise
Over the past decade, extra skills have been piled on the humble mineral exploration geologists’ plate: On top of solid field skills and deposit knowledge lands the ability to quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) geochemical data, run a portable XRF program, wrangle data from a new geophysical technique, consider permitting issues, environmental issues, health and safety, and community relations.
“The whole exploration game has been additive,” says Hart,” The breadth and depth of the skillset for the average front line exploration geologist just continues to expand.” As a result, vital and time-consuming tasks, including looking at rocks, mapping, core logging, structural interpretations and integration, are passed to people with less experience. Too often, the logging of core extracted from the ground at costs up to $500 per metre is handed to the least experienced team members.
With this trend, Hart sees companies increasingly turning to experts with specific geochemical and geophysical abilities that cannot be developed in-house. However, one task companies cannot outsource is data management.
Drowning in data
“Even the best companies will admit significant deficiencies in their ability to organize and access their data,” says Hart, “COVID has accelerated a process that’s been happening incrementally over the last two decades.”
With fewer people travelling or in the field – as a result of COVID or as a general trend toward less field time – companies are re-evaluating their data, searching their archives and public repositories, looking for fresh insight and new tools to process old data and extract more value.
Hart suggests that every project needs a “chief data manager” – a person to police data acquisition, curation and archiving – as well as a system robust enough to easily access the data when that person leaves.
Tools and solutions
Although there is enthusiasm for machine learning, big data, and artificial intelligence, Hart says, “putting crap data into high-level tools is not going to give you the answer that you’re looking for.” Instead, we should be using these tools to sort through the “mud” of bad data, and machine learning algorithms can be used to give us clarity in some of those components.
Hart also suggests rethinking the way we store and access an existing resource: assessment reports. These reports tend to be text-heavy and stored in poorly accessible systems that are difficult to search. He notes that progress is being made in this area, citing Nicole Barlow’s work (at Purple Rock Inc.) georeferencing and capturing data from BC’s NI 43-101s to make them more public and accessible.
Hart and his co-chair, Michael Tucker, Kore Mining Ltd., have assembled a group of experts to talk about these and other themes affecting our industry during Roundup 2021. The “Leading Through Change” Theme Session will take place on Tuesday, Jan 19 at 9:00 am – 10:30 am PST.
Explorers in British Columbia have handled the COVID-induced changes in 2020 just as they handle all challenges. Says Hart: “We’re flying by the seat of our pants, but this is the sort of thing the exploration industry has always done well. We are very entrepreneurial people and always find a way to do it.”