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Mineral and Petroleum Resources Research

Improving resource exploration
Investigating aspects of resource exploration, including hydrocarbon and mineral resources based on petrographic, geochemical, computational and geophysical methods.

Our aims

The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Research Group researches nearly all aspects of resource exploration, including coal, petroleum and mineral resources. Research encompasses fundamental processes which ultimately drive the formation and accumulation of ore deposits and hydrocarbons.

Our research

Modelling Sedimentary Basin Evolution

The ARC Basin GENESIS Hub (BGH) is a 5-year Industry Transformation Research Hub supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and 5 industry partners, aimed at developing and applying next generation computer models to fine-tune our understanding of the structure and evolution of sedimentary basins. The Hub is based at the University of Sydney’s EarthByte research group (www.earthbyte.org), led by Prof Dietmar Müller and A/Prof Patrice Rey, with additional nodes at the University of Melbourne (led by Prof Louis Moresi), Curtin University (led by Prof Chris Elders), the California Institute of Technology (led by Prof Michael Gurnis) and Geoscience Australia (led by Dr Karol Czarnota).

The Hub’s unique strength is in connecting global plate tectonic and geodynamic models to models of the evolution of individual basins and their hinterlands. This requires linking disparate geological and geophysical data sets with several simulations and modelling codes and their outputs. A central theme in the Hub is understanding the origin, and destruction, of topography. Surface topography represents the source of sediments that ultimately end up in sedimentary basins. Therefore, we are trying to understand how surface topography or accommodation space is created or destroyed via combinations of lithospheric deformation, mantle convection, erosion and sedimentation, constrained by a range of observations.

Our surface process models, driven by tectonic forcing of topography via mantle convection and plate deformation using the Badlands software (https://github.com/badlands-model/pyBadlands). These models are being applied to understand the interplay of the formation and disappearance of the Cretaceous Eromanga Sea and the subsequent uplift of the eastern highlands of Australia, and the evolution of sedimentary basins around Australia, Papua New Guinea and along Atlantic Ocean passive margins.

Research Fellows in the Hub include Rohitash Chandra, Claire Mallard, Maria Seton and Sabin Zahirovic.

Mineral Exploration using machine learning

In collaboration with the Centre for Translational Data Science (CTDS), we are developing machine learning approaches to aid mineral exploration.  One example is the Capricorn Orogen of Western Australia, where the underexplored Gascoyne Province is largely blanketed by sedimentary and regolith cover, making it especially important to use cost-effective methods to improve our understanding of its geology and ultimately promote mineral exploration investment.

Here we are developing a method that exploits the association of mineral deposits with crustal faults.  One approach uses computer vision techniques to learn the association between mineral deposits and geological lineaments in Landsat data.  A second approach fuses geological field observations with geophysical data, particularly magnetic and gravity anomalies, to create a probabilistic map of the three-dimensional structure of geological boundaries. In a third case study we developed a Gaussian classifier methodology to develop iron ore prospectivity mapping of the Yilgarn and Pilbara cratons. A fourth case study is focussed on combining a multitude of geological and geophysical data sets to create porphyry copper-gold prospectivity maps for regions in central NSW. A fifth case study is based on spatio-temporal analysis of mineral deposits, enabled by the pyGPlates Python library for spatio-temporal data mining.

Efficiently extracting subduction zone characteristics for age-coded ore deposits allows us to unravel the tectonic environments of Pacific-rim porphyry copper-gold deposits along the Andes since the Late Cretaceous. Future pyGPlates applications will integrate tectonic reconstructions with high-resolution high-performance computer simulations and statistical model analysis and optimisation for the development of an “experimental planet”. These linked technologies have the potential to reveal the big picture of how crustal and deep-Earth processes interact, and thus the intricate pathways in the planet’s geological development. Collaborators in these projects include researchers from Curtin University and the Sydney Informatics Hub.

Mineral Systems, Tectonics and Earth Evolution

Ore deposits are the products of highly selective mass transfer processes created in response to large-scale tectonic events. We study the evolution of Earth’s continents in relation to the temporal and spatial distribution of ore deposits in order to define mineral systems at all scales. Tectonic cycles, from the development and break up of supercontinents to the recurring associations of magma types and specific ore types are studied to establish which factors provide optimal metal sources, ore fluid pathways and sites of efficient mineral deposition. Our studies employ combinations of field work, microscopic observations, geochemistry and isotopic tracers along with remotely sensed data. We employ computer-based plate reconstructions and numerical models of early continent development to understand ore formation over the last 3 billion years.

Our people                                                                    

Opportunities

For information about opportunities to study with us, contact the researchers above.