Modern geological exploration is the process of finding commercially viable mineral resources while maintaining the lowest possible costs and the shortest exploration time. These processes can be complex, have numerous stages, and often don’t lead to commercially viable mineral deposits. For these reasons, many exploration programs don’t make it through all the stages of the exploration program. Exploration projects find themselves under constant pressure to keep costs down while stretching budgets to their maximum limits. It is under this kind of pressure where software modeling can truly give an added advantage to exploration projects by helping to lower costs in the long run, by allowing instant updates of existing data and interpretations, and by being a great tool for communicating the data that exploration companies have collected.
Although a geological model is only a small part in the chain of events that lead to the development of exploration projects, the assumptions and the interpretation of these models are the foundations for all the downstream decisions on data analysis, estimation, classification, etc. The geological model that is developed in the exploration process is the best way that exploration companies have of communicating the understanding of the geology of their deposit, and because of this, the utilization of software for creating, manipulating, and adapting this model becomes essential when trying to communicate this information in a speedy and accurate manner.
Geological modeling has come a long way from the old days when it was done through paper recording and charting. Plotting drill holes on cross-sections and then flipping through the sections to determine whether rock units or mineralization extended from one section to the other. The result being a 2-dimensional model representing a 3-dimensional geological body. Needless to say, this process was slow, time consuming, and not very efficient. Additional data or a new interpretation of the existing model would mean starting over and recreating all the sections by hand. Geologist would need to use their imagination to visualize the mineralized body or the lithological units. With the advances in computer technology during the past thirty years, this gap between the collection and data and visualization of it has been filled and today we find many great modeling software out there, such as Leapfrog Geo, Maptek Vulcan, and Promine, amongst others.
Creating a geological and resource model is a combination of art, science, engineering, statistics, and well-informed hypothesis. The use of modeling software helps mining professionals to be more efficient, create more accurate models, be able to try different hypothesis without having to restart from square one, and be able to communicate their findings in a visually pleasing way that people with no geological background can understand. Although the use of modeling software is not a requirement for an exploration project, you will be hard-pressed to find an exploration company that is not using one type or another of modeling software in their operations.
But why are geological models so important for exploration companies? Simply put, geological models form the foundation or the basis for calculating mineral resources and reserves. The block model that is subsequently developed is simply a means of determining quality and quantity within volumes and it is based on the geological understanding with some analytical data. The block model can then be used to calculate economic volumes for reserves, perform designs, consider mining methods, produce a mining schedule, etc. in short, the development of a mine plan based on an accurately created model.
Because mineral exploration is a business like any other, making money is the end goal and thus the economic output of the mine plan is what is most important, thus for most junior companies, the rocks on the ground and the deposit in them are the foundation assets of their business, thus a properly constructed geological model is the main business tool that exploration companies use to communicate, understand, and evaluate this asset to potential investors. Using modeling software helps them achieve this in a faster, more accurate, and efficient way.
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