The Contribution of High Resolution Aeromagnetics to Archean Gold Exploration in the Kalgoorlie Region, Western Australia
Published:January 01, 1989
D. J. Isles, P. G. Harman, J. P. Cunneen, 1989. "The Contribution of High Resolution Aeromagnetics to Archean Gold Exploration in the Kalgoorlie Region, Western Australia", The Geology of Gold Deposits: The Perspective in 1988, Reid R. Keays, W. R. H. Ramsay, David I. Groves
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Aeromagnetic surveys became an integral part of gold exploration programs in the Archean Yilgarn block, Western Australia, during the mid-1980s. Although previously accepted in regional geologic mapping and in exploration for magnetite-associated deposits, aeromagnetics has gained in stature as a primary gold exploration tool through its capacity to portray subtle geologic detail over a wide range of scales.
Two developments in the application of aeromagnetics have been largely responsible for highlighting geologic elements pertinent to the localization of gold mineralization. The first is the introduction of image-processing techniques which permit display of a much wider range of information than conventional contours, and when applied to aeromagnetics, provide much greater flexibility in highlighting particular aspects of the data. The other major development has been the introduction of multiclient surveys, in which detailed, nonexclusive data are gathered over large areas and become available to explorers at a much reduced cost. Such data cater to both regional area selection studies and prospect-scale geologic mapping.
The extended geologic resolution of aeromagnetic data is illustrated in three examples from the Kalgoorlie region in the Eastern Goldfields province of the Yilgarn block.
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The Geology of Gold Deposits: The Perspective in 1988
When the price of gold rose from about $200 (U.S.) an ounce in 1979 to nearly $700 an ounce by the end of the same year, the gold rush of the 1980s was under way. Gold production in the western world rose dramatically; from 1981 to 1986 production increased by 300 to 1,282 metric tons per year. Annual production may reach 1,500 to 1,600 metric tons by 1990 (Woodall, 1988). The major contributors to the increased stream of gold have been Australia, Canada, Brazil, and the United States together with other circum-Pacific countries. The increased price of gold and new methods of extraction have allowed many older deposits to be reopened, but the most important factor has been the high success level of exploration. This success has resulted in large part from the application of new genetic models and from the development of new exploration techniques.
There are hundreds of thousands of reported gold occurrences around the world. The majority are alluvial placers, but large numbers of bedrock occurrences have also been discovered. Most of these occurrences prove to be very small and are relatively unimportant in the overall world production level. Most mined gold has come from a small number of giant deposits, which were found by prospectors. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the discovery of giant deposits in the future will involve more than the sharp eyes and persistence of the old prospector. The use of sound geologic principles, and exploration programs based on those principles, is what the future holds. An example can be seen in the successful search for gold deposits in the South Pacific. There, exploration models have been based on principles developed in the study of modern geothermal systems. Giant deposits such as Lihir and Porgera have been the reward. Another example is the giant copper-gold-uranium deposit at Olympic Dam, South Australia, discovered beneath 300 m of cover using an exploration program based on models developed by Western Mining Corporation geologists for Zambian copper belt-type deposits.
Gold deposits are widely dispersed throughout many geologic settings and in virtually all kinds of rocks, but they do not seem to have formed at a uniform rate throughout geologic history. On the contrary, two very distinct metallogenic periods have been defined. The first is the Archean era, when most of the great deposits in greenstone belts were formed and the vast Witwatersrand basin deposits in