The “Geomapping Lever”
The “Geomapping Lever” is seen as a powerful and practical means of unlocking Africa’s immense natural resource potential. African Geological Surveys should be a key source of contemporary, unbiased and reliable earth-science related research which can inform local and regional policy development, stimulate mineral exploration and mine expansion, and ultimately drive economic progress.
Traditionally, geological surveys have been pivotal in the mapping of geology, including compilation of mineral occurrence maps and the documenting of ore deposit characteristics, and in turn mineral discovery. They have been significant contributors in engineering geology for projects where ground stability is critical - such as in the construction of dams and bridges. Many international geological surveys have taken the lead in environmental monitoring, ground water protection and chemical geo-hazard mitigation. Surveys continue to play an important role in identifying the risks posed by natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or landslides, minimising not only human loss, but the economic impact of such disasters.
There are two primary challenges currently facing geological surveys in Africa. The first relates to the dire need to archive Africa’s vast historical geological records. Much of the available African survey data was collated during colonial times and in some instances partly or largely resides with the former colonial country. Such is the case for mining data for many areas of the DRC which are housed in Belgian’s Royal Museum of Central Africa.
When data is housed on the African continent, access to it is often difficult and time consuming. Historical data needs to be captured in a manner consistent with modern requirements and in a range of formats. In an era where electronic media is king, a functioning, regularly updated and searchable geological survey websites offer the obvious solution. These could offer products that could be purchased online or even downloaded immediately.
Comprehensive GIS databases and digitally scanned maps and reports are crucial inputs for mining companies. There still remains a niche for the use of paper maps and reports, particularly for the small miner and the general public. Products should be developed with this in mind, and priced accordingly.
Secondly it remains true that large tracts of Africa remain under-explored and there is a heavy reliance on outdated, colonial era work. New, sustained geological work on the ground is urgently required to achieve country-wide map coverage at higher levels of detail and quality. The collection of complementary regional-scale, high-resolution, remote sensing, geophysical and geochemical datasets should also be undertaken as a priority.
Geological surveys can no longer rely on old data interpretations that preceded modern concepts such as plate tectonics or new understanding on ore genesis processes. Critical re-interpretation would not only improve data reliability, but together with modern exploration techniques would permit greater success in uncovering the deeper, more complex mineralisation that remains. Governments, through investment and the research of their surveys, can provide the necessary stimulus for industry to explore for these elusive deposit types.
Quality geological survey data increases exploration success and saves mining companies considerable time and expense. The latter point is particularly true in the context of the depressed global exploration environment. Mining companies do not currently have the resources to start mapping huge areas and there is certainly no competitive advantage for them to make this information public.
Products generated by surveys will empower local players and provide entry into the highly competitive minerals exploration space. Up-to-date geological information is also an essential input for informed, responsible and sustainable development of Africa’s mineral, energy and water resources, as well as the safe development and modernization of regional infrastructure.
Investment in geological surveys has proven time and again to be cost-effective and yields multiple product offshoots (e.g. ground water exploration).
African governments must increase the resources and budgets of their geological surveys if these challenges are to be addressed. Partnerships with international funding bodies and geological surveys must be fostered, particularly those of former colonial powers. The resources of international universities and research groups could also be partnered with topical geological research projects in host countries. Governments and geological surveys must be open to partnerships with the private sector which can cost-effectively deliver skills and expertise. Spatial Dimension’s “FlexiCadastre” system is a good example of this and has permitted real-time access to exploration and mining license information for several African countries.
At a regional level, there needs to be better organisation and collaboration between African geological surveys. This would facilitate a coordinated approach to updating maps with standardised stratigraphy, geological and colour systems. This would be especially useful where major geological features of significant economic importance span borders, such as is the case with the Central African Copperbelt.
The economic value of new discoveries and unexploited deposits needs no explanation. African geological surveys can increase international investment, facilitate job creation and add new revenue streams for governments. The information they produce can also save human lives and mitigate economic loss. Geological surveys serve a fundamental role in resolving many of the important issues facing African countries today and in the future.
Mr. John Murphy
Managing Director, The Mineral Corporation
Tel: +27(0)82 469 7667
Mr. Wayne Viljoen
Geologist, The Mineral Corporation
Tel: +27(0)84 585 0021