Predicting where gold and copper lie

Indonesian and Australian scientists are part of a team searching for buried treasure: using the movement of tectonic plates to predict when and where giant deposits of gold and copper should form, while building an understanding of the conditions these deposits are created in.

The project, which was begun in 2013 and due for completion in 2016, is using Southeast Asia as a ‘natural laboratory’ to explore these natural processes and their products. Knowing when and how deposits formed can help us understand geological processes occurring today.

To ‘go back in time,’ the researchers have to know the exact age of the deposit, then use satellite data to infer present-day rates of movement of the earth. They then run analyses to see what the specific conditions were at the time that deposit formed.

It’s not certain whether giant ore deposits are formed in a special way and under unique conditions, or if they’re simply large accumulations formed in the same way that deposits of all sizes are. Knowing whether distinct geological conditions are needed for these giant deposits of metal to form could help with exploration. The researchers will also produce a toolkit, which will allow four-dimensional virtual exploration of how to apply their search methods.

The project involves collaboration between the Bandung Institute of Technology; the Australian National University’s Satellites, Seismometers and Mass Spectrometers initiative; AngloGold Ashanti Australia; Agincourt Resources; Vale Australia; Utrecht University in the Netherlands; the South East Asia Research Group Royal Holloway University of London; and Aberdeen University in Scotland.

Credit for banner image: Gordon Lister.