COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Researchers here have built a database of maps covering a massive area in three western states which may help geologists locate concentrations of five different metals, including gold and silver.
The new database, developed as part of a Ph.D. research project, digests in a few minutes geologic and related map information that traditionally could take weeks for scientists to combine into new maps. It also provides researchers considerable flexibility to ask questions about a regions mineral content, and it allows researchers to save their ideas and map combinations for later use.
This isnt a new way to find gold, emphasized Cathy Dentan, the Ph.D. student who developed the system. Weve assembled a series of maps into a database that can improve our ability to assess an area for possible valuable mineral deposits.
Douglas Pride, associate professor of geological sciences and Dentans advisor, emphasized that the new database can be accessed very rapidly, and it is one of the most adaptable tools publicly available for mineral exploration.
Pride explained the project October 20 in Salt Lake City at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. Dentans work now includes data on five additional metals as well.
She focused on an area of 209,000 square kilometers (81,000 square miles) -- roughly twice the size of the state of Ohio -- in southeast Oregon, southwest Idaho and much of Nevada. Digital maps, in which each pixel (or picture element) covers one-quarter square kilometer, were prepared for topography, gravity, magnetics, geology and crustal heat flow, along with 15 other variables that describe the area.
In addition to the precious metals gold and silver, the new system contains information on deposits of mercury, antimony and arsenic, as well as a number of other important metals.
The individual pixels are smaller than the average size of even the smallest known retrievable deposits, she said.
We had to choose a scale that was large enough to cover this area but small enough for the computer to be able to handle the information. Dentan said the system represents nearly three and a half years of work but can be run on a reasonably powerful personal computer.
The area, known as the Northern Great Basin, is one of the most geologically complex regions in the country. The development of the area dates back as far as 600 million years. The area consists of mountain ranges and basins, and encompasses many of the known gold deposits in Nevada. The metal deposits were formed through the percolation of mineral-laden waters through rock layers by thousands of ancient hot springs that once dotted the area.
Cathy has assembled perhaps the best collection of data available for this very large and geologically important area, Pride said. It should increase the efficiency of geologists and prospectors looking for metal deposits in this region, he added.
Dentan and Pride suggested that researchers could use the system to construct new maps that combine different sets of data in new ways, improving their understanding of the geology and concentrating efforts in potentially rich locales while ignoring others showing little promise.
In additional to speed, flexibility and resolution, Dentan emphasized that the new system represents an environmentally friendly exploration technique that recycles information in a new way, providing an opportunity for better understanding of the character of mineralization in the region.