Feasibility of rock characterization for mineral exploration using seismic data
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The use of seismic methods in hard rock environments in Western Australia for mineral exploration is a new and burgeoning technology. Traditionally, mineral exploration has relied upon potential field methods and surface prospecting to reveal shallow targets for economic exploitation. These methods have been and will continue to be effective but lack lateral and depth resolution needed to image deeper mineral deposits for targeted mining. With global need for minerals, and gold in particular, increasing in demand, and with shallower targets harder to find, new methods to uncover deeper mineral reserves are needed. Seismic reflection imaging, hard rock borehole data analysis, seismic inversion and seismic attribute analysis all give the spatial and volumetric exploration techniques the mineral industry can use to reveal high value deeper mineral targets.In 2002, two high resolution seismic lines, the East Victory and Intrepid, were acquired along with sonic logging, to assess the feasibility of seismic imaging and rock characterisation at the St. Ives gold camp in Western Australia. An innovative research project was undertaken combining seismic processing, rock characterization, reflection calibration, seismic inversion and seismic attribute analysis to show that volumetric predictions of rock type and gold-content may be viable in hard rock environments. Accurate seismic imaging and reflection identification proved to be challenging but achievable task in the all-out hard rock environment of the Yilgarn craton. Accurate results were confounded by crocked seismic line acquisition, low signal-to-noise ratio, regolith distortions, small elastic property variations in the rock, and a limited volume of sonic logging. Each of these challenges, however, did have a systematic solution which allowed for accurate results to be achieved.Seismic imaging was successfully completed on both the East Victory and Intrepid data sets revealing complex structures in the Earth as shallow as 100 metres to as deep as 3000 metres. The successful imaging required homogenization of the regolith to eliminate regolith travel-time distortions and accurate constant velocity analysis for reflection focusing using migration. Verification of the high amplitude reflections within each image was achieved through integration of surface geological and underground mine data as well as calibration with log derived synthetic seismograms. The most accurate imaging results were ultimately achieved on the East Victory line which had good signal-to-noise ratio and close-to-straight data acquisition direction compared to the more crooked Intrepid seismic line.The sonic logs from both the East Victory and Intrepid seismic lines were comprehensively analysed by re-sampling and separating the data based on rock type, structure type, alteration type, and Au assay. Cross plotting of the log data revealed statistically accurate separation between harder and softer rocks, as well as sheared and un-sheared rock, were possible based solely on compressional-wave, shear-wave, density, acoustic and elastic impedance. These results were used successfully to derive empirical relationships between seismic attributes and geology. Calibrations of the logs and seismic data provided proof that reflections, especially high-amplitude reflections, correlated well with certain rock properties as expected from the sonic data, including high gold content sheared zones. The correlation value, however, varied with signal-to-noise ratio and crookedness of the seismic line. Subsequent numerical modelling confirmed that separating soft from hard rocks can be based on both general reflectivity pattern and impedance contrasts.Indeed impedance inversions on the calibrated seismic and sonic data produced reliable volumetric separations between harder rocks (basalt and dolerite) and softer rock (intermediate intrusive, mafic, and volcaniclastic). Acoustic impedance inversions produced the most statistically valid volumetric predictions with the simultaneous use of acoustic and elastic inversions producing stable separation of softer and harder rocks zones. Similarly, Lambda-Mu-Rho inversions showed good separations between softer and harder rock zones. With high gold content rock associated more with “softer” hard rocks and sheared zones, these volumetric inversion provide valuable information for targeted mining. The geostatistical method applied to attribute analysis, however, was highly ambiguous due to low correlations and thus produced overly generalized predictions. Overall reliability of the seismic inversion results were based on quality and quantity of sonic data leaving the East Victory data set, again with superior results as compared to the Intrepid data set.In general, detailed processing and analysis of the 2D seismic data and the study of the relationship between the recorded wave-field and rock properties measured from borehole logs, core samples and open cut mining, revealed that positive correlations can be developed between the two. The results of rigorous research show that rock characterization using seismic methodology will greatly benefit the mineral industry.
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