Mapping Australia’s heavy minerals in world-first
The Australian Government’s Exploring for the Future program is continuing to deliver for the resources industry with the release of a new tool to support the discovery of minerals critical to the net zero transformation.
The Heavy Mineral Map of Australia, developed by Geoscience Australia in collaboration with Curtin University, has been created using heavy mineral samples found in floodplain sediments from across the country.
Heavy minerals are used around the world for mineral and energy exploration, including in the search for critical minerals.
By analysing the heavy mineral samples in floodplain sediments, geologists can determine the likelihood of mineral deposits upstream.
For example, if the mineral scheelite is found in a sediment sample, the catchment upstream may contain tungsten. Tungsten is a critical element used in the production of electrodes, an essential ingredient in batteries.
Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia, Madeleine King, said that the development of the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia was a world-first in precompetitive geoscience, providing a continent-wide view of heavy mineral distribution.
“Nowhere else in the world have we seen datasets that show the distribution of heavy minerals at a continental scale that are freely available to the public,” Minister King said.
“This map sets us apart and, crucially, will help us forge ahead on the road to net zero.”
Geoscience Australia accessed existing samples from the National Geochemical Survey of Australia archive, collected from across Australia.
Over two years, more than 145 million mineral grains from 1,315 samples were analysed to create the maps, identifying 163 different mineral species, from actinolite to zoisite.
To facilitate exploration of such a vast dataset, a bespoke cloud-based mineral network analysis tool was developed at Geoscience Australia. This tool allows for the rapid visualisation, exploration and discovery of relationships between the heavy minerals, as well as links between them and geological settings or existing mineral deposits.
The result was the first ever heavy minerals study that prepared and analysed the national set of samples in the same way, unlike in other parts of the world that combine generations of smaller surveys.
“Heavy minerals have been underutilised in exploring for critical minerals, the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia will help change that,” Minister King said.
Programs like the Australian Government’s Exploring for the Future program are vital for supporting Australia’s transition to net zero.
“To unearth new minerals, we must explore in new and innovative ways,” Minister King said.
“The key to unlocking new commercial exploration is precompetitive geoscience, like the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia.”
The Heavy Mineral Map of Australia can be found here: https://dx.doi.org/10.26186/148916