Airborne Electromagnetic Technology for Geological Surveys in DRC & Zambia

Airborne Electromagnetics Redefines Mineral Exploration


In contemporary geophysical surveys targeting minerals in subsurface environments, the emphasis is on enhanced safety, cost containment, environmental protection, and improved efficiency. Encouragingly, Airborne Electromagnetic Technology has proved to be a viable alternative to conventional airborne surveying techniques. There is a compelling business case for geologists and exploration companies to embrace the revolutionary technology in projects. 

On the African continent, exploration projects are being launched in response to the increasing demand for minerals to meet the need for raw materials in different sectors. To mineral exploration companies, specifically, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

Opportunity and challenge

It is an opportunity as they have to do their utmost to meet expectations of producing critical geological data on minerals of interest. On the other hand, the challenging part is utilising the most effective techniques to realise their objective in the current operating environment.

The current operating environment obliges exploration projects to be carried out while keeping several critical aspects in mind. In particular, these include enhanced safety, improved efficiency, cost compliance with stringent environmental regulations, and minimal disruption to communities where activities take place.

Compounding matters, a new challenge has emerged. In the past, geology was visible on the surface. In this way, decision-making on the viability of exploring a deposit was faster.

However, the depletion of mineral deposits in shallow areas has prompted the search to go deep into the subsurface. In most cases, this may involve penetrating 100 to 500 metres below the surface in search of geological data.

Rethinking the approach

Unfortunately, conventional methods of geological exploration on the ground may not be effective. Usually, conventional methods of mapping and exploration often involve time-consuming, disruptive and costly ground testing and drilling.

In light of this, in geophysical surveying and mapping, there is a compelling case for techniques that allow for these to be realised to be employed. This necessitates exploration companies rethinking their approach.

More opportunities for AEM

The situation has opened opportunities for the deployment of Airborne electromagnetic (AEM) in airborne geophysical surveys in subsurface exploration projects as an alternative. Precisely, in large-scale surveys, AEM technologies can collect, process and deliver reliable geological data rapidly. Typically, non-intrusive, AEM technologies use several sensors to measure certain physical properties of rocks, such as density, magnetism and conductivity. Advanced AEM can detect subtle differences in electromagnetic responses that provide vital data on the presence and characteristics of mineral deposits.

The precise electromagnetic data obtained then enables the identification and characterisation of large mineral deposits. In geological mapping, using the data derived, a team of geologists can build proper three-dimensional (3D) geological models for reference.

Fascinatingly, increased computer power and software development have enhanced better processing of airborne geophysical data. As a result, geologists can generate 3D models closely resembling the true geology on the ground.

Wide scope of benefits 

Information from exploration companies this publication has gathered suggests a compelling business case for the adoption of AEM technologies in geophysical surveys. The technologies offer the following wide scope of benefits:

  • Large-scale aerial surveys are completed effectively, reducing costs
  • The inherent safety risk associated with geological exploration on the ground is considerably reduced.
  • By capturing large amounts of data over vast regions with enhanced accuracy, exploration times are significantly reduced, and tasks are completed effectively.
  • Costs are reduced.
  • Due to its non-intrusive nature, it ensures that the testing and drilling tasks leave a minimal environmental footprint.

More importantly, the geological data gathered provides geologists and exploration teams with significant insight into the physical properties of materials subsurface. In this way, they can make informed decisions and devote their efforts to areas with the promise of success.

Ticking all the boxes 

Where the objective is ticking boxes such as cost containment, efficiency, safety and environmental protection, the use of AEM technologies in planning and implementing airborne geophysical surveys is the way to go. Concerning cost-containment in particular, it is an economical way of selecting potential targets before spending capital on exploration. The ultimate gain is that precise mineral deposit identification may lead to more responsible mineral development.

Encouraging success 

Thus far, where the technology has been deployed in airborne geological surveys in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, as well as West Africa, it has redefined mineral exploration. Hopefully, the success registered can be replicated in similar other projects in 2024.

Looking ahead, there is only one certainty: AEM technologies will only get better, streamlining processes.  

By Ndlovu Nqobile


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