Mineral exploration under relatively young, exotic cover still presents a major challenge to discovery. Advances and future developments can be categorized in four key areas, (1) understanding metal mobility and mechanisms, (2) rapid geochemical analyses, (3) data access, integration and interoperability and (4) innovation in laboratory-based methods.
Application of ‘regolith-style' surface mapping in covered terrains outside of conventional lateritic terrains is achieving success in terms of reducing background noise and improving geochemical contrasts. However, process models for anomaly generation are still uncertain and require further research. The interaction between the surface environment, microbes, hydrocarbons and chemistry is receiving greater attention. While significant progress has been achieved in understanding the role of vegetation, interaction with the water table and cycling of metals in the near surface environment in Australia, other regions of the world, for example, the till-covered terrains in the northern hemisphere and arid colluvium-covered areas of South America, have seen less progress. In addition to vegetation, the influence of bacteria, fungi and invertebrates is not as well studied with respect to metal mobilization in cover. Field portable XRF has become a standard field technique, though more often used in a camp setting. Apart from a tweaking of analytical quality, instruments have probably reached their peak of analytical development with add-ons, such as cameras, beam-limiters, wireless transmission and GPS as the main differences between instrument suppliers. Their future rests in automated application in unconventional configurations, for example, core scanning and better integration of analytical data with other information such as spectral analyses. Pattern drilling that persists in industry, however, has benefited from innovative application of field-portable tools along with rock and mineral chemistry to provide near real-time results and assist in a shift toward more flexible and targeted drilling in greenfields settings.
Innovation in the laboratory continues to progress. More selective geochemical analysis, imaging of fine particle size fractions and resistate mineral phases and isotope analysis are faster and more accessible than ever before. The application of genomics (and data analysis) as mineral exploration tools is on the horizon. A continuing problem in geoscience, the supply to industry of suitably trained geochemists, persists although some needs, particularly at junior level, will be met by recent initiatives at various universities at graduate level. Unfortunately, the current economic climate has had a significant impact on R&D and retention of geochemistry skills by the industry. Whilst the future is positive, significant investment is required to develop the next generation of geochemical exploration tools and concepts.