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Economic Geology News

Exploration Practice versus Science and Theory - Sig Muessig’s Canon for Ore Finders (22 July 2015)

Sig Muessig was a remarkably successful explorationist. In a 1998 paper, he published a summary of his views on “ore finding” that was reprinted by SEG in 2014. Look at the titles of his major rules below. In the paper, they all are further explained and I advise you strongly to acquire the full text for a proper understanding.

I do like, as an example, his remarks explaining canon no. 1 “Exploration is not a science”:

“The aims of exploration are fundamentally at odds with those of science. Science seeks understanding, whereas exploration seeks discovery, by whatever means, with or without understanding. ... If I had to pick a basic flaw in the philosophical approach of many organizations to exploration, it would be here. Many geologists tend to ignore or disbelieve data and observations simply because they cannot explain them—no scientific cause can be established. As a result, many either walk away or they over-geologize and then walk away. Consider a classic case: the Wegener hypothesis of continental drift was derided primarily because no understandable cause could be developed, so plate tectonics lay “undiscovered” for many years.”

If you wish to delve deeper, here is the full list:

Exploration is not a science - Go with the facts, forget the theory - Try for the definitive test. -- The odds are best in the shadow of the head frame. -- Save the agonizing for mineralized trends. -- Look for ore, not mineralization. - To find an orebody, you have to drill ore holes. -- There needs to be room for the ore -- Improve it or drop it -- Do not chase spurious anomalies. -- Do not be preoccupied with explaining anomalies. -- Do not be preoccupied with path finders. -- Do not be preoccupied with stereo typed concepts -- Do not be technology driven -- Acquire first, study later -- Disregard competitor’s previous actions -- Go for the jugular. -- It’s the drill hole, stupid!

With my background in science, I might object to several of the canons (e.g. Sig’s distrust of pathfinders). But Sig has found giant ore bodies! His arguments need to be taken very seriously. And, I would add, many discussions in field camps or in board rooms might profit from throwing in one or the other of Sig’s canons!


Muessig, S. (2014) The ore finders – 18 exploration canons. SEG Newsletter 97, 17-19 (Reprint from SEG Newsletter 1998).



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Kiruna-type iron oxide-apatite (IOA) deposits – a truly innovative genetic model (24 June 2015)

Kiruna in northern Sweden is the largest iron ore producer in Europe. It is traditionally considered as the type-deposit of orthomagmatic iron ore formation related to felsic intrusions. Most scientists invoked formation of an immiscible iron oxide melt that segregated from the silicate liquid and crystallized to massive magnetite-apatite ore. Some observations seemed to favour a magmatic-extrusive ore formation or a magmatic-hydrothermal metasomatic origin similar to iron oxide-copper-gold (IOCG) deposits. Knipping et al. (2015), however, now submit convincingly that magmatic magnetite flotation is the best-fitting genetic model for Kiruna type iron ore deposits.

Froth flotation, as you all know it from ore dressing plants, uses the different wetting characteristics of ore minerals and gangue. Conditions are set so that air bubbles rising upward through a cell containing comminuted ore as an aqueous slurry attach themselves to the ore particles. Gangue sinks to the bottom while the froth is skimmed from the surface and processed into concentrate.

Recently, upward segregation of dense phases such as magnetite or sulphide liquid in silicate melt by flotation similar to the industrial process, as opposed to downward gravitational segregation, was recognized in natural systems and investigated in laboratories. Maria Edmonds (2015; free download!) describes the state of scientific understanding.

Jaayke Knipping et al. (2015) investigated the Los Colorados iron oxide-apatite (IOA) deposit in the Cretaceous Chilean iron ore belt. Iron and oxygen isotope and geochemical data (Al + Mn/Ti + V) of magnetite clearly demonstrate a magmatic origin of cores surrounded by zones of magmatic-hydrothermal character. The authors’ interpretation differentiates several stages (1) magnetite microlites segregate from dioritic melt forming suspended clouds; (2) H2O saturation induce fluid segregation; (3) rising bubbles attach themselves to magnetite crystals and form aggregates that ascend in the magma chamber; (4) concentrations of the “foam” may reach up to 37 vol% (65 wt%) magnetite; (5) the aqueous fluid component of the foam shifts the magnetite chemistry to high-T magmatic-hydrothermal characteristics; (6) the magnetite-rich foam may be trapped within the igneous system or, as at Los Colorados, intrude along faults that were active at the time. The deposit comprises ca. 350 Mt of ore (magnetite, with a gangue of actinolite, apatite, and clinopyroxene).

Let me be clear – this paper is an important innovation, or a revolution?, in our understanding of orthomagmatic ore fomation. The authors point out that the results indicate genetic relations between IOA and IOCG deposits. Reverberations of this new model may reach other deposit types. Can you think of any that may be candidates for re-interpretation?


Edmonds, M. (2015) Flotation of magmatic minerals. Geology 43, 655-656. Open Access http://geology.gsapubs.org/cgi/content/full/43/7/655?etoc


Knipping, J.L., Bilenker, L.D., Simon, A.C. et al. (2015) Giant Kiruna-type deposits form by efficient flotation of magmatic magnetite suspensions. Geology 43, 591-594. http://geology.gsapubs.org/cgi/content/abstract/43/7/591?etoc


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Mine Closure Experts, Take Note: Drawing Profits from Exhausted Open Pits – a Novel Approach (3 June 2015)

Recently, Younger & Mayes (reference below) proposed to use pits for gradual infilling with autochthonous organic sediments (not organic waste), which can serve as a long-term sink for atmospheric CO2. On the bottom of suitable residual opencasts, wetlands would be established. In the presence of small pit lakes, part of the vegetation might be planned as floating mats. Moderate acid rock drainage would be favourable because sulfate inhibits anaerobic decay and methane formation. Contamination dissolved in mine run-off will be retained in the freshly formed peat. Obviously, completely filling a pit with peat will take a long time, but maintenance costs should be minimal and credits for sequestered carbon can be sold. Depending on climate and the local groundwater situation, a moderate extent of water management might be needed to maintain plant growth.

In many ways, nature should profit from such sites, providing a habitat for numerous species. Likewise, local communities should enjoy their green beauty spot, as an enriched landscape of constructed ecosystems and services.

Leafing through the DMP & EPA (URL below) “Guidelines for preparing mine closure plans”, the last of four principle strategies may apply to peat production in pits: “4. Develop an alternative land use with beneficial uses other than the pre-mining land use” (page 31).


DMP & EPA (2015) Guidelines for preparing mine closure plans. 100 pp, Department of Mines and Petroleum & Environmental Protection Authority, Government of Western Australia. URL http://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/.

Younger, P.L. & Mayes, W.M. (2015) The potential use of exhausted open pit mine voids as sinks for atmospheric CO2: Insights from natural reedbeds and mine water treatment wetlands. Mine Water Environment 34, 112-120. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10230-014-0293-5


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After the April 25, 2015 Earthquake in Nepal, more than ever, our help is needed! (1 May 2015)

Surely you have noticed on my home page that for many years, I support the NGO PHASE (Practical Help Achieving Self Empowerment) in improving the lives of inhabitants of remote Himalayan villages in Nepal. PHASE follows a holistic approach to development, from health care to teacher training and women’s empowerment.

After the recent earthquake, many of the project villages and other communities around are heavily hit by the destruction and their loss of all means for existence. PHASE started to help immediately after the first shock. The size of the disaster is large and so are the funds now needed.

Please help!


Professional information on this earthquake is available at

Nepal April 25, 2015; Magnitude 7.8 Earthquake (USGS Earthquake pages)

Hand, E. & Priyanka, P. Pulla (2015) Nepal disaster presages a coming megaquake. Science 1 May 2015: 348 no. 6234 pp. 484-485. DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6234.484


For more information on PHASE, its engagement in earthquake relief and development, and for online donations to PHASE, visit

Phase Donate Online

Phase Worldwide (U.K.)

Phase (Austria)

Phase (Nepal)


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Is Buried Anorthosite Genetically Related to the Green Garnet Gemstones in Southern Kenya? (17 April 2015)

Recently, I was prompted to re-analyse work that I had done long ago in Kenya, geologically mapping the Mwatate Quadrangle and exploring the gemstone deposits of the area (Pohl et al. 1979).

The green garnet gemstones are grossularites coloured by Fe, Cr, Mn, Ti and V. Host rocks are calcareous, pelitic and graphitic metasediments interbedded with paragneiss and metabasalts, metamorphosed at amphibolite facies conditions up to 7 kbar and 700o C (Pohl et al. 1979), dated at 630–645 Ma (Hauzenberger et al. 2007). General dip is to the ENE but this veils polyphase folding and thrust sheets marked by small ultramafic bodies (Frisch & Pohl 1986). Metamorphism and deformation occurred during the East African Orogeny that contributed to the assembly of supercontinent Gondwana. A 15 x 5 km lensoid body of charnockite protrudes from the metasediments (you can download the paper + map from my profile in ResearchGate). The charnockite was most probably tectonically emplaced into the fold-and thrust belt of the metasediments but likely was basement to the passive margin system of the Mozambiquian Ocean, upon which the sediments formed at ca. 800-600 Ma (Fritz et al. 2013) during the breakup of supercontinent Rodinia.

Green grossularite
Green grossularite garnet (about 25 mm across), idiomorphic, cataclastic, kelyphitic reaction rim (5 mm) of bluish tanzanite (a zoisite), epidote, clinopyroxene, spinel, quartz and scapolite. Collected at Lualenyi Mine.

Boudinage of more competent rock layers in less competent host rock is ubiquitous at Mwatate. The green gem garnets (tsavorites: Bridges & Walker 2014) are commonly enriched in boudin necks of calcsilicate boudins in graphite schist. These dilatational sites (pressure shadows) draw in the metamorphic dehydration fluids and favour coarse-grained crystallisation. This demonstrates a strong structural synmetamorphic and syndeformational control of garnet crystallisation. Additional control by upright folds and some faults is seen in most gemstone mines in the area (Figs. 5-10). Green grossularite deposits seem bound to a certain graphitic lithostratigraphic unit.

An aeromagnetic survey of the sheet was flown in 1977 (CIDA, Terra Surveys Ltd.); in reduced size, the map is included in my report (Fig. 12). A significant positive anomaly 9 x 2.5 km roughly coincides with the charnockite outcrop’s N-S axis but is not in accordance with shape and internal structure of the charnockite complex. The shape of the anomaly was thought to indicate considerable depth; application of the straight slope method (Milsom & Eriksen 2011) for estimating the depth of the source body produces a figure of 700 ± 200 m. At the time, we speculated that a buried mass of magnetite might be the source of the anomaly. The exposed charnockite only contains ~4 mode % of apatite, zircon and magnetite.

Considering that charnockite is a member of the anorthosite, mangerite, charnockite and rapakivi granite (AMCG) magmatic suite and related ilmenite deposits (Charlier et al. 2015) and that Proterozoic anorthosite bodies that intruded at 900-700 Ma are exposed in the nearby Eastern Granulite region, Pare Mts., Tanzania (Fritz et al. 2013, Tenczer et al. 2011), a desktop study and possibly, renewed field work concerning this remarkable magnetic anomaly appears desirable. This could be a magnetite body with Ti-V-(P) tenors that enhance the feasibility of deep mining. After all, at Kiruna in Northern Sweden, simple magnetite is profitably exploited at more than 1000 m below the surface.

Admittedly, a genetic tie-line to the green garnet gemstones is pure phantasy; but be so kind as to read my arguments: If the source body of the Mtonga magnetic anomaly is Ti-ore associated with a buried anorthosite intrusion, it is likely that a wide contact metamorphic halo and fluid expulsion were produced. Fluid passage through solidified anorthosite would be marked by the characteristic bleaching of the host anorthosite (Charlier et al. 2015). These fluids should have leached and transported the colouring metals into the cover sediments including the green garnet horizon.

Following up these speculations might result in (1) finding a new large Ti orebody, and (2) building a novel mineral (process) system for green garnet exploration. Anybody interested?


References:


Bridges, B. & Walker, J. (2014) The discoverer of tsavorite – Campbell Bridges – and his Scorpion mine. The Journal of Gemmology 34(3), 230–241. http://dx.doi.org/10.15506/JoG.2014.34.3.230

Charlier, B., Namur, O., Bolle, O. et al. (2015) Fe-Ti-V-P ore deposits associated with Proterozoic massif-type anorthosites and related rocks. Earth-Science Reviews 141, 56–81.

Frisch, W. & Pohl, W. (1986) Petrochemistry of some mafic and ultramafic rocks from the Mozambique Belt, SE Kenya. Mitt. oesterr. Geol. Ges. 78, 97–114.

Fritz, H., Abdelsalam, M., Ali, K.A., et al. (2013) Orogen styles in the East African Orogen: A review of the Neoproterozoic to Cambrian tectonic evolution. J. African Earth Sciences 86, 65–106.

Hauzenberger C.A., Sommer H., Fritz H., Bauernhofer A., Kroner A., Hoinkes G., Wallbrecher E. and Thöni M. (2007) SHRIMP U-Pb zircon and Sm-Nd garnet ages from the granulite-facies basement of SE Kenya: Evidence for Neoproterozoic polycyclic assembly of the Mozambique Belt. J.Geological Society London, 164, 189–201. http://dx.doi.org/10.1144/0016-76492005-081

Milsom, J.J. & Eriksen, A. (2011) Field geophysics. 4th edn. 304 pp. The Geological Field Techniques Series, Wiley. www.wiley.com/go/milsom/geophysics4e

Pohl, W.L., Nauta, W.J. & Niedermayr, G. (1979) Geology of the Mwatate Quadrangle and the Vanadium Grossularite Deposits of the Area (with a Geological Map 1:50,000). Kenya Geol. Survey Report No. 101, 55 pp, 13 Figs., Nairobi. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Walter_Pohl

Tenczer, V., Hauzenberger, C.A., Fritz, H., Hoinkes, G., Muhongo, S. & Klötzli, U. (2011) The P–T–X(fluid) evolution of meta-anorthosites in the Eastern Granulites, Tanzania. J. Metamorphic Geol. 29, 537–560. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1314.2011.00929.x


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The Anthropocene – a Voice of Reason (24 March 2015)

Wherever you live, you must have learnt from the media that in geological terms, our time should forthwith be called the Anthropocene (not Holocene any more) because humans so strongly impact on the Earth. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Why not? – At least that was my reaction when I first heard about the proposal some 15 years ago. And you?

Basically, all members of the geological community are professionally responsible for such a change and should be engaged. In his latest blog on Research News from the Earth Sciences , Steve Drury reports on recent developments in the (scientific) discussion. I strongly recommend to read his cool, dry and reasoned treatment.

For a taste, read the sample paragraph below, which provides the gist of Steve’s analysis:

“So the Anthropocene adds the future to the stratigraphic column, which seems more than slightly odd. As Richard Monastersky notes, it is in fact a political entity: part of some kind of agenda or manifesto; a sort of environmental agitprop from the ‘geos’. As if there were not dozens of rational reasons to change human impacts to haul society back from catastrophe, which many people outside the scientific community have good reason to see as hot air on which there is never any concrete action by ‘the great and the good’. Monastersky also notes that the present Anthropocene record in naturally deposited geological materials accounts for less than a millimetre at the top of ocean-floor sediments. How long might the proposed Epoch last? If action to halt anthropogenic environmental change does eventually work, the Anthropocene will be very short in historic terms let alone those which form the currency of geology. If it doesn’t, there will be nobody around able to document, let alone understand, the epochal events recorded in rocks. At its worst, for some alien, visiting planetary scientists, far in the future, an Anthropocene Epoch will almost certainly be far shorter than the 104 to 105 years represented by the hugely more important Palaeozoic-Mesozoic and Mesozoic-Cenozoic boundary sequences; but with no Wikipedia entry.”

If you wish to brush up your knowledge of the geological time-scale, visit the International Commission on Stratigraphy website where you can download for free the latest version (2015-1) of the International Stratigraphic Chart & Time-Scale, as yet without the Anthropocene.

Steve Drury: The Anthropocene-what-or-who-is-it-for

International Stratigraphic Chart & Time-Scale


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Exploring for Porphyry Copper Deposits (18 February 2015)

Admittedly, global resource figures seem not to imply a scarcity of copper, and some might conclude, that there is little need for exploration:

In 2014, world mine production of copper contained in concentrate was 18.7 Mt, with the major share provided by Chile, China, Peru, USA, DR Congo and Australia. Global mining reserves in the ground amount to 700 Mt of the metal and continue to grow (USGS 2015). Excluding reserves, large formally declared copper resources are available (Mudd et al. 2013) and undiscovered recoverable copper is substantial (Kesler & Wilkinson 2008). Land-based resources comprise mainly porphyry copper (86%, USGS 2015). Undiscovered resources hold an estimated 3500 Mt of Cu. So is there plenty of copper?

Looking at the reserves/production (R/P) ratio at 37 (years), however, shows that exploration for copper is definitely not an idle game but serious business. Replacement of presently operating mines is needed and considering the long leadtime from discovery to first production, the sooner the better.

It seems fitting that the January Newsletter of SEG (Society of Economic Geologists) opens the year with an article about porphyry copper deposits, in which Halley et al. (2015) report on some results of a three-year industry project on footprints of magmatic-hydrothermal porphyry copper systems. Note the term “system” that expresses the recent trend that not deposits are sought (which are never identical) but indications for the mineralizing process system (which is less variable).

The authors’ abstract may serve as an overview of the contents covered:

“Whole-rock lithogeochemical analyses combined with short-wave infrared (SWIR) spectroscopy provide a rapid and cost-effective method for prospecting for porphyry-type hydrothermal systems. Lithogeochemistry detects trace metals to average crustal abundance levels and allows vectoring via gradients of chalcophile and lithophile elements transported by magmatic-hydrothermal ore and external circulating fluids that are dispersed and trapped in altered rocks. Of particular use are alkalis in sericite and metals such as Mo, W, Se, Te, Bi, As, and Sb, which form stable oxides that remain in weathered rocks and soils. SWIR mapping of shifts in the 2,200-nm Al-OH absorption feature in sericite define paleofluid pH gradients useful for vectoring toward the center of the buoyant metal-bearing magmatic-hydrothermal plume”.

I particularly like their updated (compared with the Lowell-Guilbert-1970 model) version of the alteration zoning that characterizes porphyry copper deposits, in a cross section that is rich in detail. In similar sections, the distribution of trace elements along the hypogene plume is shown, from below the main ore level through highest grade and mineralization top, to the advanced argillic alteration zone with polymetallic veins.

The paper offers new geochemical approaches for the exploration geologist. Another hope for finding new clusters of porphyry copper deposits comes from global dynamics:

Known porphyry copper provinces will continue to attract exploration crews. They crowd in continental volcanic arc setttings such as the Andes and are leaders in present copper mining. Deposits in continent-arc or continent-continent collision zones and post-subduction settings are less common. Yet, the lately discovered 400 km long Miocene (17-14 Ma) Gandese porphyry copper-molybdenum belt in Tibet intruded the Himalayas that were formed by the Indian-Asian collision. The mineralised porphyry intrusions in Tibet formed long after subduction related (120-70 Ma) and syn-collisional (65-38 Ma) magmatic activity in the region. Zengqian Hou et al. (2013) suggest that the post-collisional fertile potassic magmas were derived from a juvenile, thickened lower mafic crust, not from subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM) nor from old lower crust. These days, in an open access paper “hot off the press” Zengqian Hou et al. (2015) discuss this subject in more detail.

Who is the next team to make a similar discovery?


Halley, S., Dilles, J.H. & Tosdal, R.M. (2015) Footprints: Hydrothermal alteration and geochemical dispersion around porphyry copper deposits. SEG Newsletter 100, 1, 12-17.

Zengqian Hou, Zhiming Yang, Yongjun Lu, Anthony Kemp, Yuanchuan Zheng, Qiuyun Li, Juxing Tang, Zhusen Yang & Lianfeng Duan (2015) A genetic linkage between subduction- and collision-related porphyry Cu deposits in continental collision zones. Geology published 5 February 2015, 10.1130/G36362.1 Open Access http://geology.gsapubs.org/cgi/content/abstract/G36362.1v1?papetoc



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Structural Core Logging Best Practice (06 January 2015)

If you wish to update your core logging skills, consult the paper by Sian Bright and co-authors. It is extremely useful in that it provides information on up-to-date technologies including critical comparison of hard- and software. The writing is clear and lucid. Figures and photographs are excellent.

Sections of the paper cover downhole survey tools, core orientation including methods such as marking and equipment, core preparation for logging, structural data collection, with a short but useful introduction to structural geology applied to modelling, e.g. what to measure and measurement techniques. The first author’s training as a structural geologist is revealed by advice such as the advantage of creating interpretive illustrations of important features, summarized into preliminary structural schemes while working on the core, and the early transformation of data into dip/dip directions.

Manual or software assisted plotting of data on stereonets is suggested and examples of practical application are provided. Advantages and disadvantages of two commonly used software packages(GEOrient©, Dips) are discussed. Visualization possibilities of the core data and output are succinctly presented; methods include 3D Leapfrog® and Micromine®, and 2D GIS and Google Earth.

Logging personell in the core shed, but also exploration and mine managers, regulating authorities and academic teachers will read this paper to their advantage.


Bright, S., Conner, G., Turner, A. & Vearncombe, J. (2014) Drill core, structure and digital technologies. Applied Earth Science 123, 47-68.



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