This paper focuses on handheld and top-of-hole techniques which have appeared since 2007 or have undergone major improvements, and discusses their benefits, challenges and pitfalls, why we use them and what to expect from them. There is an ongoing need to be innovative with the way we undertake mineral exploration. Recent technological advances that have been applied to successful mineral exploration include on-site or portable instruments, on-site laboratory technologies, various core scanners, and technologies for fluid analysis. Portable or field technologies such as pXRF, pXRD, pNIR-SWIR, µRaman and LIBS aid in obtaining chemical and mineralogical information. Spectral gamma tools, a well-known technology, recently took advantage of improved ground and airborne (drone) instruments, to complement hyperspectral imagery. At mine and exploration sites, top-of-hole sensing technologies, such as Lab-at-Rig® and various core scanners (both spectral- and XRF-based) have become useful tools to analyse metres of core as it is being drilled. Fluid analyses are not as common as analyses of solid materials, but there are advances in such technologies as anodic stripping voltammetry, polarography and ion-exchange electrodes aiming for analysis of commodity or environmentally important elements.
Field-portable geochemical techniques and on-site technologies now offer instant response and flexibility for most exploration tasks. By providing relevant data within minutes, they allow safer field decisions and focus on the most promising finds, while saving valuable resources in sampling grids or drilling. More efficient laboratory analysis programs are supported by sample screening and homogeneity checking on-site. Field analyses are not always as accurate as laboratory ones, but most of the time can be correlated with them, enabling reliable decisions. The level of confidence in field-made decisions needs to be compared between later and less numerous laboratory analyses, and less precise but more abundant and immediate field analyses. It may be demonstrated that, in many cases, the fit–for-purpose nature of the latter allows a better confidence level. Quality compromises associated with field analyses can be reduced by the application of better sample preparation and quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) procedures. Most of the further development of on-site chemical analysis is expected to be based on its integration with lab methods and on sound QA/QC practice, allowing a precise evaluation of its confidence level and uncertainties. Mineralogical analyses are constrained by our ability to interpret the data in near-real time but offer promising approaches in both surface and drilling exploration campaigns.
Thematic collection: This article is part of the Exploration 17 collection available at: https://www.lyellcollection.org/cc/exploration-17