Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Mineral prospecting has become a global activity and such
standardisation can help create distributed databases,
which can be accessed through standard protocols
Prof Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor, [email protected]
When the first remote sensing satellite went up in 1972, it created a huge interest among earth science professionals. Leading the group were the geologists. They marvelled at the synoptic view and the ability look at the earth in large swaths and detect features that stretch over kilometres. Since those heady days, many new sensors have been developed because it became apparent that the spectral coverage of Landsat was not sufficient to detect mineralised zones. Hyperspectral sensors, synthetic aperture radar, LiDAR and satellites like GRACE have increased earth science data manyfold. However, what lies below the surface can only be inferred from such data. This inference requires models, which mineral exploration organisations use on ensembles of data to prospect for minerals.
This is an area of geospatial techniques that few will share in open literature because of the huge financial resources involved. However, management of a variety of data sets from the point of interoperability and standardisation seems to have resulted in the OneGeology Consortium and its GeoSciML language. Mineral prospecting has become a global activity and such standardisation can help create distributed databases, which can be accessed through standard protocols. When it comes to mining, there are many applications that use geospatial systems. One of these is mine management where dedicated software is used to efficiently manage resources like mining equipment, heavy haulage vehicles, mine safety and adherence to environmental protection laws.
Returning the mine to nature, particularly in the case of open pit mines and mine dumps, is another important activity that needs the use of geospatial technologies. Asian countries are particularly vulnerable because their mineral wealth lies under centuries old forests inhabited by local tribes. Mining activity not only disturbs the ecosystem, but also endangers the livelihood and lifestyle of the local people. Software for such activities are not available particularly because the financial returns are not measurable in terms of hard cash in the short term. The returns are in kind by way of better quality of life in the long term but such ‘returns’ are not financially attractive.
As the world ‘develops’, the demand on non-renewable resources climbs higher and higher. Are such demands sustainable? We have seen dire prediction of scenarios as the world runs out of oil, something that has not happened—yet. Meanwhile, coal continues to be the fuel of choice because of its cost efficiency leading to horrendous pollution and possibly global warming as the atmosphere gets loaded with carbon. Yet, every other mining activity relies on these two sources of energy. Are we in a Catch-22 situation? This, only time will tell.
Satellite imagery of lush forests, rolling hills and open pit mines are equally breathtaking, but their pictures on the ground are less so. It is up to geospatial professionals to address many of the issues related to mining, and try mitigating the problems through information which will contribute to efficiency of exploration and mining operations and reduction of the ill-effects of mining.