Core skills for graduate geologists

  • By Dale Sims
group shot of course attendees

The AusIMM Geoscience Society and the Australian Institute of Geoscience (AIG) joined together in April to run a ten day course for unemployed graduate geologists in Brisbane.

The course was designed as a pilot program to support lesser experienced members enduring hardship in the current downturn. As the peak bodies for geoscience in the minerals industries in Australia, both organisations share a concern that graduate geos who can’t find work will end up moving away from the industry by necessity, potentially never to return. The course aimed to improve attendees’ skills and appreciation of what issues are important for developing geological understanding, interpretation and 3D modelling of mineralisation systems, as well as delivering a shot of enthusiasm for the practice of their profession.

The concept for the course was to find a coherent collection of mineralised drill core which would allow the development of a geological framework for mineralisation through observation, logging and the synthesis of key geological domains, alteration zones and structural controls on ore distribution. Then attendees would manage their data in to a larger dataset and develop the information into a 2D interpretation, then a 3D model over the duration of the course.

Participants examine the core sample.

Planning

GeoSoc started to develop this concept in mid-2014 when the prolonged downturn in exploration and mining was starting to show its extent. The Geological Society of Australia’s Australian Earth Science Convention in Newcastle mid-year raised the opportunity to approach the Queensland Geology Survey at their booth with a request to support this training concept using their purpose-built core facility at Zillmere in northern Brisbane as a delivery location. Although core normally resides at mine sites and exploration projects it is increasingly hard to get access to these areas and so government geological survey core facilities are a viable alternative in most of our capital cities. Mark Thornton and Laurie Hutton from the Queensland Geological were immediately supportive of the concept and threw the full resources of the Queensland Exploration Data Centre (EDC) behind the pilot project.

What followed was a brief half-day visit to the EDC in November to examine the core collection. Although significant material was held in storage, a collection of proximal core from a strongly mineralised environment like a mine was absent in their collection of exploration oriented core. A collection of mine core was required and potential ‘local’ sources were investigated.

Evolution Mining’s Mt Rawdon Operation were approached and immediately offered assistance by providing a selection of drillcore from a recent pit expansion drilling program. Ultimately around 3000m of core were loaned from the site and trucked to Zillmere by Evolution at no cost with the core arriving in mid-December 2014. Additionally the entire resource drilling database was to be made available under a Confidentiality Agreement to allow attendees to integrate their logs of the available core into the global drilling dataset. Evolution Mining’s extraordinary support for this program set the scene for the project and is very much appreciated.

The next stage in the program was to undertake a three day scoping visit to Zillmere in February to review the core, examine the logistics of the site and to develop the program in more detail. Alice Clark and Mike Erceg donated time to review the core and the program and help develop the activities and objectives of the course.

Alice’s suggestion of wrapping the exercise in a realistic scenario to put emphasis and urgency into the program was a stroke of genius. As ‘consultancy group’ the course attendees were part of a team appointed to review the asset for our ‘clients’ as potential buyers. The clients required us to independently validate the underlying geological model for the resource, investigate the controls on mineralisation and model the deposit to determine if further exploration potential exists in the project. Importantly we were not able to submit our invoice until the report had been generated!

The work plan included spending five days on developing the geological model and scan logging the core in the first week, followed by two days of data management and validation including a visit to an assay laboratory and QAQC analysis exercises, then a data review and melding of our logs into the actual mine database. Finally three days were to be spent on learning the 3D data analysis and modelling package Leapfrog Geo and producing preliminary models of lithology and mineralisation to focus on geometrical and geological controls for the orebody. The process was to use a ‘clean sheet’ approach where no prior information was to be provided about the orebody being investigated beyond broad approximations of the type of operation the deposit was supporting.

The logistics for the event was a strong point. Mark Livingstone, the EDC Manager, was more than willing to make the exercise work. It was testing his resources and his workforce to layout the 3000m of core out in one go so that attendees could get a full appreciation of the dataset available, the EDC Conference room was made available for the 2 weeks and importantly the core was to be HyLogged by the EDC’s HyLogger facility. This aspect was to make the resultant spectral data available at no cost to the course attendees or to Evolution Mining and as such the course was to demonstrate the range of modern technologies available for geological assessment of core. In addition the Geological Survey of Queensland was to provide background discussions on the regional geology around Mt Rawdon plus a demonstration of pXRF instruments and assist with their use in data collection.

core layout area for the course
3000m of core was on display for the course attendees to analyse.

Once the program was finalised the advertising flier went out. The AusIMM Board supported the course to the amount of $5000 with the AIG providing an additional $2500 in support when requested through its Queensland Branch. This support ensured the course could be run at a very low cost for attendees and a price of $50 per attendee was set for the 2 weeks. Calls for expression of interest were made with a specific request for attendees who were graduates with little or no experience in mining or exploration. Around 28 applications were received and this was shortlisted to a final group of 18 geologists with successful applicants having little or no industry experience or who had been unemployed for a long period of time.

It is a demanding task to run a 10 day course for nearly 20 people and one which needed assistance. Through the AusIMM’s MAP network, the AIG and personal contacts we were fortunate that some very experienced geos were available to help with the delivery of the course – helpers ranged from the one or two day ‘visiting experts’ to a few who helped for much of the program over 4-6 days to two people who assisted for most or all of the 2 weeks. The attendees were never short of advice or opinion although the aim was more to ask the questions to get people thinking!

Delivery

The course commenced on Monday 20 April with attendees traveling from as far afield as Cairns, Melbourne and Christchurch although the bulk of participants were locals from Brisbane and surrounds. After a round of introductions and a review of the program and its objectives it was to the core yard to start assessing the rock types, working in pairs. With a focus on the ‘clean sheet’ approach to sequentially build observations and understanding attendees sallied forth to start looking at a drillhole each with the selection of 14 to choose from.

Mt Rawdon is an ‘intrusion related’ gold deposit hosted in dacitic volcanics and volcaniclastics intruded by an overprinting sequence of rhyolitic, mafic and felsic porphyry dykes. In the broad picture the geology is not overly complex yet that depends on scale. Reviewing the ‘interbedded’ sequence of lava flows, related breccias and generations of dykes was a significant challenge to attendees and required assistants to keep people thinking about what they were seeing! Scale is the key and resolving what was significant at a particular scale was a major objective for the course.

Participants spent the first five days working in pairs reviewing and compiling their ideas on the geology framework for the deposit from the available drill core, the alteration styles and the relationship of these two features to mineralisation distribution. Mount Rawdon had provided their assay database for these holes and in the scenario as ‘consultants’ reviewing the deposit as independent experts having access to this data was a significant advantage and much appreciated. Along the way we had established a logging scheme and rock code library, determined what alteration was significant and qualitative ways to consistently record it, and developed a graphic and coded logging dataset for all holes based on a logging template donated by Martabe mine site in Indonesia. We established a rock relationship diagram and built significant confidence in the process of mineralisation and rock systems assessment using tools such as the naked eye equipped with a hand lens, a steel scratcher, an acid bottle and the pXRF.

Genna and troy
Attendees worked in pairs to review and compile their ideas on the geology framework for the deposit from the available drill core.

Theories, hypotheses and alternatives were developed, considered, rejected, refined. We had visits and lunchtime talks from visiting ‘seagulls’ on behalf of our ‘clients’: a geotechnical expert, a resource modeller, a coal geologist, an exploration manager plus an array of passing government geologists. We had even knocked off early on Wednesday to go into the CBD for the world-famous weekly GEOPUB meetings at Mick O’Malley’s Irish Pub for networking training, plus a Friday BBQ lunch at the EDC! It was a very full week with most geo pairs having logged the bulk of the drillholes and compiled significant data and understanding.

After the weekend off the second week commenced with a visit to a commercial laboratory with ALS hosting visits to both its sample preparation facility and analysis laboratory in northern Brisbane, followed by discussions about databases with a guest speaker, an overview of resource estimation basics and a QAQC data analysis exercise. The collected logging data was melded into the site database with validation and database corrections undertaken based on the prior week’s logging. The HyLogger was reviewed and the data it generated was examined to gain a preliminary understanding of how it could be used to further assess the key aspects of the mineralisation system at Mt Rawdon. A demonstration of the online data access systems hosted by the Queensland Geological Survey, how to write a report was discussed plus a personal view of working as a recent graduate geo in Australia’s minerals industry was also in the program. Wednesday night saw another trip to the GEOPUB and Thursday afternoon all course participants attended the SE Queensland AusIMM presentation by QRC CEO Michael Roche on the state of the Queensland mining industry before the course dinner at the Port Office Hotel.

core inspection during the course
Core inspection during the course.

The final three days were spent training attendees in the use of the leading-edge Leapfrog 3D geological modelling software and producing preliminary models of lithology and mineralisation for the entire Mt Rawdon dataset, then producing videos and viewer files demonstrating what people had achieved in their models and the insights they had gained looking at the dataset in a global way.

Feedback

So was this course successful? What were the outcomes from the course as a pilot program, the impressions of attendees from their course feedback sheets and where do we go next with this concept?

Firstly as the course organiser and facilitator it was very rewarding to see the level of support a large number of people gave to the whole process. The EDC and its staff really made it possible. Without such support the course would struggle logistically. The financial support from both the AIG and the AusIMM was essential to make it affordable for attendees. Without Evolution’s support with the core we would not have had the course. The assistance from the experienced professionals involved made the course a great success as well. But for me it was the sustained interest, appreciation and enthusiasm of the course participants which made the course personally rewarding. The integration from core observation to data collection to database entry to 3D modelling was a major contribution in attendees understanding of industry standard practices. The guys did a great job and we were all very proud of their outcomes from the two weeks.

Attendees’ feedback forms reflected their technical development and appreciation:
• More beneficial than an entire university semester
• The course has given me confidence to communicate with peers and employers
• Grads need to have these skill sets to be competitive in the market
• I have a much better exposure to what is expected of geos in industry
• I lost all hope after graduating and was about to give up on a career as a geologist but after this course I feel my passion for geology has been reignited and I feel more inspired than ever to be more proactive in putting my foot in the door
• It’s amazing how much I learnt – going from data collection to building a model is a great experience
• It was good to listen to the thought processes that experienced geos go through
• The skills I learnt during this course I consider a must for any geo coming out of university
• This course is a good insight into what industry is actually about
• It means a lot for professionals to give us a hand when we are starting our careers

On the constructive side participants were asked what they would change with the course, how much did they think it was worth and how much could they afford to pay for it? There were a number of comments that people would like to see an operating core drilling rig, that there should be an accommodation package option for out-of-towners as that was expensive, that the course could be shortened by about three days by reducing the core to be logged by each group to around 3-4 holes and that people are charged a more realistic cost – that ranged in suggestions from $300 – $1000 per person for the course but the general comment is the more affordable it is the more unemployed geos can afford it.

Core skills group bris april15

So where to from here? AusIMM GeoSoc have commenced dialogue with SA and WA Branches to see if further rounds of training of this type could be run potentially in Adelaide and Perth over a shorter time frame by reducing some of the core logging content. Additionally, guided by attendees’ comments, the financial sustainability of the course needs to be addressed and a more realistic yet affordable cost structure developed.

Finally our deep and sincere thanks to the following groups and people whose assistance made this course possible;
• Evolution Mining’s Mt Rawdon Geology Manager Craig Bosel
• The Queensland Geological Survey: Laurie Hutton, Mark Thornton, Mark Livingstone and his EDC logistics team, Suraj Gopalakrishnan, Daniel Killen, Dominic Brown, Joe Ham and Bill Perkins.
• The AusIMM Board and the Queensland AIG Committee under Rod Carlson
• Visiting ‘celebrity’ geos Joe Gough, Nick Cook, Adrian Diaz, Richard Haselwood, Tony Shellshear and Melanie Lee
• ALS Global Laboratory managers Graham Ennis and Shaun Kenny
• PTAR’s Shawn Crispin from Martabe Mine, Sumatra
• CSIRO’s Jon Huntington and Tom Cudahy
And most importantly
• Course co-presenters; Geoff Phillips, Mike Erceg, James Pocoe and Dave Arnott

We are also grateful for the support of the following sponsors:

logos

Many thanks!
Dale Sims

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