New geological survey maps understudied part of N.W.T.

Mining advocates are applauding the N.W.T. Geological Survey for its recent work mapping an under-explored area of the territory. 

Tom Hoefer, the executive director of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines, says the information could spur mineral exploration and help the N.W.T.'s slumping mining industry. 

"The [economic] outlook in the future isn't that great, and the reason why is we haven't found enough new mines to offset the mine closures that are going to be coming," he said. 

"And the reason for that is we've had flagging, or really low exploration investment for the last 12 years now."

The N.W.T. Geological Survey released new data on Monday of a large swath of the Slave Geological Province, including an area known as the Point Lake greenstone belt. Point Lake is located about 300 kilometres north of Yellowknife, near the Nunavut border.  

An airplane equipped with a magnetic sensor collected information about the 5,000 square kilometre survey area. 

Photo courtesy of EON Geosciences Inc.

"Simply put, this data tells us which parts of the rocks in these areas are more or less magnetic than others," said Barrett Elliott, a diamond geologist with the N.W.T. Geological Survey. 

"By combining this with what we already know about the rocks in the region, we can generate new and more detailed geological maps, and these maps show that some areas have greater potential than others to host certain types of mineral deposits."    

The Slave Geological Province is a very old and stable portion of the earth's crust that covers roughly 200,000 square kilometres. It stretches between Great Slave Lake and Coronation Gulf on the Arctic Ocean. It contains some of the oldest known rock on Earth and many mineral deposits, including diamonds, precious metals and rare earth minerals. 

"The greenstone belts in the Slave Geological Province are ideal for hosting gold and base metal deposits," Elliott said. "In some places, the Slave Geological Province is thought to be close to 200 kilometres thick. And that's the sort of geological environment where you would expect to find diamond deposits in."  

Little interest now, but new data could change that

Surveyors focused on mapping greenstone belts in areas where there has been little to no mineral exploration, including the Point Lake greenstone belt. 

"There isn't a lot of interest in that greenstone belt right now," Hoefer said. "So this is a way to help [entice] companies. To say 'Hey, we didn't know that that's what the geology was there ... We're interested now, so we'll go stake some claims.' Which means spending money and then doing the exploration work on it."   

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency provided $1.1 million dollars to fund the aerial survey. 

Information gathered is now publicly available on the N.W.T. Geological Survey's website.

Hoefer summed up the importance of the new information with a metaphor used fairly regularly in Canadian mining circles. 

"We always said that finding a mine is like finding a needle in a haystack. But what geoscience does is actually help industry determine which haystack to look in."