Minerals smaller than grain of sand can help explorers find new kimberlite deposits, N.W.T. gov't says

Geologists with the territorial government say minerals smaller than grains of sand could be key to the next diamond find in the Northwest Territories.

Data released by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment last week shows whether certain minerals only found in kimberlite are present in core samples drilled from a nearly 8,000-square-kilometre area near Lac de Gras, N.W.T.   

"You're looking for certain sand-sized particles of indicator minerals only found in kimberlite," explained Scott Cairns, the territorial government's manager of minerals and bedrock mapping.

"The idea being if you find a few grains of sand that originated from the kimberlite, you'd be able to track those back to the kimberlite itself," Cairns said.

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Traditional surveying for these kimberlite indicators tracked surface samples instead of samples from the core, Cairns said. Geologists would find these samples, then attempt to trace them back to find the kimberlite deposits.

But glaciers often dragged those samples far from their original location, which makes finding the kimberlite pipes difficult.

These new core samples, from 2015, were taken from just above the bedrock. That means they provide a clearer picture than earlier surveying — though the work of going out and seeing what's in the ground still needs to be done, Cairns added.

"It's a bit of a big mystery for the exploration geologists to solve," he said.

This data release comes as projected mineral exploration budgets in the North continue their decline, with spending on new projects hitting a five-year low in 2016.

Though the public is able to access the data for free online, it's published in a complex spreadsheet aimed at geologists working for mining companies, rather than independent prospectors.

Cairns said the territorial government is trying to establish better baseline maps of the region, which could encourage companies to explore or lure more diamond mining companies to come North.    

"Hopefully companies can use [this research] to make an investment decision, generating ideas they might want to try," he said.

Additional geoscience data helps companies narrow their scope of their exploration, essentially showing where the best place to look for possible mines, explained Tom Hoefer, the executive director of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. 

"For industry, finding a mine is like finding a needle in a haystack," Hoefer said. "What geoscience does is to help identify the haystacks." 

Rory Moore, the president and CEO of Kennady Diamonds, appreciates the data but doubts it will set off another diamond rush in the North.

Since some of the core samples came from ground already owned or staked, new companies to the area will not be able to directly profit from the data, he said.

"The results that come out are not going to be of an immediate advantage to any company that's looking to get into diamond exploration in the North," Moore said.

"But the principles of the study and techniques used will always be of use to the industry."