An invasive insect species can help save time and money in identifying the presence of valuable minerals, the national science agency has found.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has discovered the colour of termite mounds can clearly show evidence of metal deposits.
A sample study in Western Australia’s Pilbara region showed multiple mounds had metallic blue crusts, also known as manganese crusts, which was found to contain specific zinc signatures that could show the underground presence of base metals.
‘Accurately’ identifies deposits
“This new research shows we can now measure zinc variations, or isotopes, so accurately that we can identify what metal deposit lies deep underground,” CSIRO lead scientist Dr Sam Spinks said in a public statement. “We have shown that analysing zinc isotopes found in manganese crusts have huge potential to be used to explore for these metal deposits and others.”
His team analysed termite mounds and soils close to a zinc-lead-silver deposit, comparing this data to samples from elsewhere, to prove the connection.
“Zinc is commonly found in most base metal deposits and, over time, it is released and ends up in a range of natural materials such as soils, termite mounds and vegetation,” Spinks said. “The zinc is altered as it moves from the metal deposit to the surface, which has traditionally made it unreliable as an exploration tool, but we have been able to apply recent advances in data analysis to understand it in more detail.”
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The research team concluded manganese crusts, which are typically found in rock and cave varnishes, were a cost effective exploration tool for finding nickel and cobalt.
“Australian exploration companies have been analysing samples from termite mounds in gold exploration in recent years, now zinc offers another technique for use in broader environments and to find a range of metals,” CSIRO research group leader Dr Yulia Uvarova said.