Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered that analyzing the microbial life present in the soil above a mineral deposit can pinpoint what lies beneath.
Published in this week’s magazine Nature Communication Earth and Environmentthe study details efforts to find kimberlite (a type of rock that contains diamonds) at two locations in the Northwest Territories.
Bianca Julianella-Phillips, a doctoral student in UBC’s School of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, is a co-author on the paper. She told CTV News that the goal of her research is to facilitate the identification of mineral deposits hidden beneath large volumes of soil.
“You can’t see the rock itself,” she says. “It’s covered in soil. Therefore, we need sensing technology that can see through that material.”
According to UBC, the researchers tested soil samples taken from above kimberlite deposits that had already been identified through drilling and found that 59 of the 65 kimberlite microbial indicators identified in the lab were present. It is said that he discovered.
“There are a lot of microorganisms in the soil, and we actually know that the soil above the mineral deposits has different types and different amounts of microorganisms,” Julianella-Phillips said.
The team also identified the first site metrics to add to the dataset. We then tested areas that had not yet been excavated and were able to confirm the location and topographic profile of kimberlite deposits tens of meters below the surface.
Iulianella-Phillips said that as undiscovered deposits become increasingly rare, more remote, or better hidden, more precise methods will be needed to detect them.
She said she expects microbiological analysis to become part of the standard toolkit for mineral exploration.
At the moment, the technology has only been demonstrated in the exploration of kimberlite and porphyry copper deposits, but Julianella Phillips believes it can also be used to detect other types of minerals.
“We have specifically looked at two different types of deposits,” she said. “But in theory we should be able to try this in other deposits as well. We would love to try this.”
As society grapples with and seeks to reduce the effects of climate change, the growing demand for renewable energy and batteries will require the development of a database of more “climate-relevant” microbial signatures of minerals. Julianella Phillips said this is an important step for future research.
She said there are several potential benefits for mining companies adding microbial analysis to the mineral exploration process. Such analysis can help companies save time and money and produce more accurate results.
“Drilling is expensive and time-consuming, so we really want to know[what’s in there]before we start drilling into the ground,” says Julianella Phillips.