Raw material exploration 2.0

2 January 2017

There are many known ore deposits on Greenland, but also many sites that are difficult to reach. An innovative ‘toolbox’ based on drone-borne methods as well as specialised computer software could soon make the exploration of raw materials significantly easier. Researchers from Freiberg are hereby collaborating with the Geological Research Institute of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS).

This article was published in German in the in-house paper INSIDER (No. 22/ Dec 2016) of HZDR.

The technologies developed at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) of the HZDR for the exploration of mineral deposits could perhaps soon be applied in Greenland. This is certainly Sara Salehi’s major aim; born in Iran, she is studying for a PhD at the University of Copenhagen and at the same time is working for the Geological Research Institute of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). In October 2016, a collaborative research project brought the PhD student to Freiberg.

Hyperspectral remote sensing exploration in Greenland
Hyperspectral remote sensing exploration in Greenland.

Sara Salehi applies an innovative approach in her doctoral thesis in order to create raw material maps which particularly indicate the distribution of mineral ores. Her interest is in developing methods that overcome the challenges that may rise in arctic areas, such as lichens, low sun angle and shadows. The young researcher works with hyper-spectral data. Collected with specialised cameras above ground, they give information on the properties of materials or objects. The type and spread of mineral deposits can also be determined using these methods. Relatively quick map production of remote areas in Greenland could make it much easier for geologists to detect new mineral ore deposit sites in future. However, Sara Salehi is the only scientist working for her employer, GEUS, who is researching this remote exploration method.

Exploration using drones

Contact with the researchers in the HIF division for ‘exploration’ was most welcome. Division head Dr Richard Gloaguen had introduced his team's work at an event held by the European raw material network, EIT RawMaterials, in Copenhagen. The interest of the geological research institute GEUS was roused. “We spoke to each other a few times via Skype. Now we are working ogether in Freiberg,” says a delighted Sara Salehi.

As part of her work for GEUS, the PhD student led an expedition to Greenland in the summer. “This is where I met Sandra Jakob from the Freiberg team,” she says. Jacob, also a PhD student, researches in the same field, but she focuses on hyper-spectral data for raw material exploration which has been gathered by drones – a specialist field for the Freiberg scientists. Worldwide they are one of only a few groups dealing with this subject. Sandra Jakob won an award for best presentation at the international forum for research using hyper-spectral data in Los Angeles. “Drone data requires particular attention. Lots of research is needed in the entire field. But the team is very young and diligent. Above all, we have the same ideas and can share them, which is great,” beams Salehi.

Making the hidden visible

She is evaluating the data gathered in her Greenland expedition together with her Freiberg colleagues. What sort of results will she bring back to Copenhagen? It isn’t primarily about existing mineral ores. “I generally want to demonstrate that hyper-spectral remote exploration can be applied in Greenland,” explains the PhD student. And furthermore, “there are many areas in Greenland that are difficult to reach and, in combination with the Freiberg drones, this method can supply the required information relatively easily. We can see things using this method which would otherwise remain hidden. This applies to the type as well as amount of raw minerals. The aim is to develop a ‘toolbox’ which geologists can use on-site to obtain reliable information quickly and cost-effectively on where the raw materials are deposited.”

And how should we envisage such a ‘toolbox’? “This is software which can process data from various sources and then present them in pictorial or map form,” explains Salehi further. A time plan will be developed for this first. Perhaps the collaboration between the Helmholtz Institute and GEUS, as shown in the Greenland example, will indeed make the exploration of mineral deposit sites significantly easier.