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Data mining winners to drive resource exploration targets in South Australia

Mining & Resources

South Australia is unearthing the first round winners of its world-first data mining competition that aims to boost exploration in the resource rich Gawler Craton region.

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Launched last year, the unique global competition ExploreSA: The Gawler Challenge partnered with open innovation platform Unearthed in a global call for geologists and data scientists to uncover new exploration targets in the state’s Gawler Craton region.

The challenge has already attracted around 2000 competitors from across the globe to mine masses of the Geological Survey of South Australia’s geological and drilling data in a bid to pinpoint valuable new targets for miners.

Now four early round data preparation category winners are sharing a $20,000 slice of the competition’s $250,000 prize pool.

The winners include a data analyst and owner of machine learning business Caldera Analytics in Melbourne, a team from data science startup Incerto, a geologist from New Gold in Canada and Australia, with a focus on machine learning, and a software engineer and geospatial developer.

South Australia Department of Energy and Mining chief executive Paul Heithersay said the Gawler Craton is one of the world’s greatest provinces in terms of mineralisation, especially in copper, but “the prizes there are hard to find”.

Heithersay was surprised by just how strong interest in Unearthed had been to date, with competitors coming from Canada, Brazil, India, the United States, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa and Russia.

“Interest has well exceeded my expectations and the diversity of people involved, they are not only from the mining industry they are also coming from science or artificial intelligence or machine learning backgrounds, who haven’t used their expertise in this particular area,” he said.

He said the government was running the innovative data competition alongside a strong co-funding program approach to supporting mining in the state, through the $10 million Accelerated Discovery Initiative.

Early round data mining winners included Michael Rodda of Caldera Analytics in Melbourne and Jack Maughan, a geologist with New Gold in Canada and Australia, with a focus on big data and machine learning applications to the geosciences.

The Incerto Data startup team included Russell Menezes from Perth, founder and geo data science director of RadixGeo, and Ahmad Saleem from Perth, a research analysts and voice of Exploration Radio, plus Tyler Hall, who is completing a PhD in geoscience at Stanford University in the United States.

“As a team, our intention behind taking part in the Explore SA competition was to showcase ways of combining domain expertise in mineral exploration with proven data science techniques,” they said.

The other team included software engineer and geospatial developer Liang Chen and data scientist and business intelligence developer Ouyang Hua from Melbourne, Australia, and Liu Wei, a data scientist from China.

Using historical records, primary data and research, the competition combines geological expertise with new mathematical, machine learning and artificial intelligence to increase the number of potential drill targets across central South Australia.

South Australia’s resource sector is one pillar of the state’s economy, employing an estimated 26,000 local people and generating mining revenue of $2.4 billion over the past 12 years.

ExploreSA: The Gawler Challenge competition is among a suite of plans to spark new thinking and innovative approaches to assessing the state’s treasure trove of historical records, primary data and research in a bid to fast track the discovery of mineral deposits.

All targets and data generated by the competition will be publicly shared in September for explorers and miners to analyse and eventually drive investment and jobs.

As COVID-19 restricts business globally, the state’s Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekan said South Australia was focused on ensuring the state was ready to push for immediate economic recovery once “this health emergency is over”.

“The outcomes of the competition will demonstrate how data-driven geological approaches can be applied to mineral exploration and benefit the entire industry due to a more sophisticated understanding of the geology of the resource-rich Gawler Craton area of the state’s Far North,” van Holst Pellekan said.

“The Gawler Craton is one the world’s most significant iron oxide, copper-gold regions and by applying creative and innovative analytical approaches to geophysical data we are a step closer to uncovering the next Olympic Dam or Carrapateena.”

Mining heavyweight BHP is currently working on plans to increase copper production at its lucrative Olympic Dam operations from 200,000 to up to 350,000 tonnes each year.

The mine is 560 kilometres north of the state’s capital city Adelaide, and is one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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