February 2018

Book Review: Monograph 32 – Australian Ore Deposits

  • By Stephen McIntosh FAusIMM, Group executive – Growth & Innovation, Rio Tinto

The 900-page sixth edition of the AusIMM Australian Ore Deposits monograph weighs three-and-a-half kilograms and may be Australia’s most valuable resource.

This book is the motherlode of our industry’s geological intellectual property. This knowledge has been developed and shared over many decades through the great work of the AusIMM.

It may have taken 18 years between editions, but this wonderful new publication – containing 175 papers from 350 authors covering 200 deposits – is worth the wait.

Since 1953, the AusIMM has been committed to documenting Australia’s diverse range of metals and mineral deposits. More than 60 years later, the Australian Ore Deposits monograph is a resource like no other.

When I began my career more than 30 years ago, the monograph was the go-to source, and today it remains the core reference source for our geologists and geophysicists.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being in London when a 2.5 tonne piece of banded iron formation from near Tom Price in the Pilbara was put on permanent display at London’s Natural History Museum.

I likened the 2.6 billion year old rock to the Rosetta Stone, given the wealth of information it contains from the time of the Great Oxygenation Event, and the vital role these deposits in the Pilbara now play in our modern world by providing iron ore for steel.

In some ways Australian Ore Deposits is also like the Rosetta Stone, providing deep insights into Australia’s resource wealth, its vast terrain, regional regoliths and deposit structures.

Compared to previous editions, this new monograph has more papers devoted to regional geology, mineral provinces and specific commodities and reflects some advances in geophysics and aeromagnetic, radiometric, gravity and seismic surveys – many of which have been completed in collaboration with governments.

Technology and innovation provide our industry with new opportunities, as Dr Ian Gould, Chair of the Australian Ore Deposits Steering Committee, notes in the foreword. But context will always be king.

Context is critical, as Smith et al note in their paper, ‘Geophysics of Australian orebodies’: if you overlook the impact of saline groundwater on Australia’s dry fresh rocks – compared with say Canada – then the results of your electromagnetic survey might be different by many orders of magnitude.

Editor of the monograph, Professor Neil Phillips, says in the preface that each edition has provided a snapshot of our industry, and while the operational fortunes of some deposits have waxed and waned, the series records deposits that may no longer be accessible nor appreciated for the role they once played.

The monograph is rich in detail and historical context, reminding us how our understanding of deposits can and does change over time from discovery to development.

In the space of 20 years, Rio Tinto’s Argyle diamond mine has moved from open pit to underground, the number of iron ore deposits in the Pilbara has flourished and across Australia we’ve seen renewed interest in lithium and graphite.

From looking at the monograph’s list of more than 200 deposits it would be easy to believe that Australia’s great deposits have all been discovered – but it should embolden us to fill in the many obvious gaps, in particular in base metals such as copper.

As we all know, technology and time bring forward new opportunities. Those of us in exploration need to share and collaborate better, do better in convincing state governments that mining has a vital role to play in their future and uncover the next generation of deposits.

It’s a truism that every deposit is unique, but so too is this book a unique and valuable resource.

Maintaining its many strong historical links with the AusIMM and the monograph series, Rio Tinto is proud to have played its part as Principal Sponsor of this edition of Australian Ore Deposits and we applaud the great work of all involved.

Australian Ore Deposits, edited by Neil Phillips FAusIMM(CP), is available now in hardcopy and PDF format from the AusIMM Online Shop.

Share This Article