Afghan Mineral Wealth Discovery Inspires Hope in Pakistan
Significant deposits of copper and gold (Saindak and Reko Diq in Balochistan), zinc and lead (Lasbella, Balochistan), a new gas field (Nawabshah, Sind) and coal (Tharparkar, Sind) have been confirmed in recent years by Geological Survey of Pakistan and Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation in collaboration with mining firms from Australia, China and other nations. Reko Diq alone has estimated reserves of two billion tons of copper and 20 million ounces of gold. The value of the deposits has been estimated at about $65 billion. Based on preliminary data, a nation-wide aerial survey can be helpful in finding significant additional mineral resources in Pakistan.
The conventional exploration methods historically used by geologists have essentially relied on sturdy boots, picks, hammer, shovels, binoculars, an all-weather writing pad and a geographical map of the area to be explored. Advanced remote sensing technology, with gravity, magnetic and hyper-spectral sensors, used by American geologists in Afghanistan flying in US Navy's P3 Orion submarine-hunter aircraft and WB-57 high-flying spy planes has now transformed this process of geological resource mapping. This was at least partly motivated by the lack of roads and dangerous security situation that currently exists on the ground in Afghanistan.
Dr. John Brozena, the Chief Scientist of US Naval Research Laboratory, participated in the Afghan aerial prospecting missions. He described the effort to Ira Flatow, the host of NPR Science Friday, as follows:
" There were two separate (Afghan) airborne surveys during 2006. Ours was in a P-3, a naval aircraft, a research-configured P-3, and our was at sort of 20,000 to 30,000 feet. The second aircraft, equipped with different sensors, was flown at about 50,000 feet. That was the WB-57.
So there's information from several programs between those two aircraft. But what you need to think about when you're looking for all these minerals or thinking about all these minerals is that geologists fuse information from every source that they can get.
So a great deal of this information came from old Soviet maps. You may have heard that the workers within the Afghan Geological Survey, during the time of the Taliban occupation or control of the country, hid the maps that were made during the Soviet period and brought them forward and gave shared them with U.S. Geological Survey, who then worked with us and the WB-57 folks to put together airborne surveys to supplement the on-the-surface maps...
And so when you're thinking of how you would go about looking for all these minerals or finding them, it's really a combination of every piece of information you can integrate, and we've contributed to one part of that....
...our sensors system - and we had a very large group of sensors on the P-3, these I should mention these are former submarine chasers. It was their primary function in the Navy at the time, and the Naval Research Laboratory and its - the Navy Scientific Development's Squadron 1, VXS-1, have a couple of P-3s that are stripped out of all their military hardware, all the sensors for submarine warfare, and all the weapons systems have been removed. And they've been turned into research trucks that can carry lots of different kinds of equipment.
We had gravity, magnetics, hyper-spectral let's see, what else...
A gravity sensor detects variations in mass, local mass variations, which could be either density or amount, like a mountain. And so if you take a topographic map and try to remove the topographic variations, you're left with a good estimate of the density variations in the earth beneath you.
And that's related to both the combination of geologic structure and the materials that are in the area, and that's one type of remote sensing. It's not definitive. You have to calibrate against some ground truth. You have to integrate that information with other things. But knowing the regional densities and density variations tells you quite a lot of information.
The gravity is used primarily for sedimentary basins, looking for oil and gas, as opposed to minerals. You've been hearing in the newspaper about minerals possibly in Afghanistan. ...
The gravity sensor is more appropriate and it was onboard the aircraft looking for sedimentary basins. And in fact, we there were known sedimentary basins around Afghanistan, and what we did was define their extent and their geometries. And there are a couple that look fairly perspective, that the USGS is working on, trying to come up with estimates of potential oil and gas within Afghanistan. And they may have a fair amount of gas and even perhaps a bit of oil...
the gravity does contribute something, because if it gives you the real - the regional geologic context, the folding and faulting and things like that that are important for mineralization.
Then the next primary sensor that would be used would be the magnetics, which, from its sound, detects the variation in the magnetic field locally, around space. And that tells you about a lot about the minerals or the materials that are in the area.
It there's different amounts of magnetic field that are associated with different types of materials, and in combination with the gravity and the ground truth, again, it's a good way to do initial searches for either likely areas for minerals or direct detection.
In the case of something like iron ore, it has a huge magnetic signature directly, and so you can actually see the extent of an ore deposit if you get close enough to it.
One of the problems we had was flying at 20,000 to 30,000 feet. We're a long ways away from some of those things, so their signatures are attenuated. But in the case of a very large ferrous metal deposit, it's you still pick up signatures...
Well, hyper-spectral imaging, if you think of a normal camera as dividing the visual spectrum into three colors, red, green and blue, and then mixing them to make the various colors that you see on a photograph, a hyper-spectral imager divides into many more colors, essentially, many more bands.
The one that we were using on the P-3 divided visual range plus a little bit of the infrared into 72 bands. And so you're looking for emissions, or lack of emissions within each of those bands. And those are diagnostic of, again, materials. But the thing here is you're looking only at the surface. It's you can only see what's on the surface with any type of imaging like that, and...
It's continuing. Rampant Lion is a developmental project at the Naval Research Laboratory that's not particular to platform or sensors. It's a way to put together multiple sensors on whatever platform's appropriate for a particular problem.
So we've operated in Colombia, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're hoping to operate in the future with other countries, as well, and we have quite a lot of interest in different places in Africa and...
The "other countries" referred to Dr. Brozena apparently include Pakistan, at least according an April 2010 story in Pakistan's Business Recorder newspaper.
Quoting "reliable sources", the Pakistani paper reported on April 2, 2010, that "Pakistan has turned down United States (US) offer of aerial geological survey to explore natural reserves due to security concerns". The story said that the "US was explicably not ready to share the data with Pakistan collected through aerial geological survey, .... Pakistan has accepted Chinese assistance to conduct a comprehensive scientific geological survey of Pakistan, which will be helpful in exploring oil, gas and mineral reserves. According to sources, Defence Ministry has supported the proposal to involve Chinese Geological Survey (CGS) for geosciences co-operation".
As Pakistanis hope to discover new mineral wealth by renewed focus on exploration, I think it is important to remind everyone that Pakistan's most important resource is its people. While the country's anticipated deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, gold, oil, gas and coal can help generate significant revenues, it is important to ensure that the bulk of additional new revenue is invested in education and healthcare to develop the nation's human resources for its future well-being.
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