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MERC looks to the future

May 20, 2015
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Exploration, Research

New five-year business plan paves way for world-class research organization

Graduate students in the Department of Earth Sciences at Laurentian University’s Goodman School of Mines conducting research in the field.

Graduate students in the Department of Earth Sciences at Laurentian University’s Goodman School of Mines conducting research in the field.

The Mineral Exploration Research Centre (MERC) has committed itself to an ambitious, five-year business plan.

The mineral exploration research arm of Laurentian University’s Department of Earth Sciences, MERC boasts a global reputation as a centre of excellence for research focused on Precambrian ore deposits.

The five-year business plan will help guide MERC’s growth and allow it to play an even more important role in the global search for mineral deposits.

Completed in November 2014, the business plan sets six key strategic directions, including a greater focus on Precambrian shields around the world, the establishment of a science advisory council, the hiring of research associates to assist with project management, and the recruitment of more corporate members.

With increased financial resources from courses, workshops and membership dues, MERC will allocate $20,000 annually for pre-research investigation and establish a one-year operating reserve to offset shortfalls due to cyclical downturns in the mining industry.

This year, MERC’s research expenditures are expected to exceed $2 million for the second year in a row. Seven workshops and field trips are also scheduled for the current year.

Most projects focus on the Canadian Shield, which covers large parts of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. The research is carried out by the Department of Earth Sciences’ 66 graduate students under the supervision of 15 faculty.

MERC currently has 11 members across three different tiers. Foundation members include the Goodman School of Mines, the Ontario Geological Survey and Teck Resources. Tier one members include Detour Gold, KGHM International, Ivanhoe Mines and Gold Fields Canada. At the tier two level are Cliffs Natural Resources, Glencore’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations, Northern Superior Resources and Wallbridge Mining.

Membership entitles companies to a seat on the MERC advisory board, which meets three times per year to provide MERC director Harold Gibson and assistant director John Ayer with advice on overall research themes, new technologies and concepts to aid in the search for mineral deposits.

Ivanhoe Mines, which has several advanced exploration projects in Africa, joined MERC following a speaking engagement by executive chairman Robert Friedland at Laurentian University last year. The objective is to enlist MERC and Laurentian’s Department of Earth Sciences to provide graduate level academic opportunities to students at the University of Limpopo through a series of modular courses.

It isn’t necessary to hold membership status to commission research through MERC, said Ayer.

One research project funded by Vale, KGHM, Glencore and Wallbridge in the Sudbury Basin is just coming to an end. Another one focusing on low sulfide, PGE-rich footwall mineralization funded by the Ontario Geological Survey and the same four companies plus Lonmin plc is set to start.

MERC hopes to have five PhD students working on the project over a five-year period to better understand the mineral deposits in the Worthington Offset, site of Vale’s new Totten Mine, KGHM’s Victoria Project and Sudbury Platinum’s Aer-Kidd Project.

MERC is also busy conducting research for IAMGOLD at its Côté Gold Project near Gogama and for Detour Gold, which operates the second largest tonnage producing gold mine in Canada located 185 kilometres northeast of Cochrane. Also in the works is another project funded by Primero Mining Corp. and St. Andrew Goldfields to study the Grey Fox and Hislop North zones in the Matheson area.

“The research in the Abitibi will help to better understand what the structural controls are and how the deposits formed,” said Ayer. “The majority of the deposits in the Abitibi have very strong structural controls. They’re closely situated to regional faults such as the Porcupine-Destor Fault, which runs through Timmins and the Larder Lake Deformation Zone, which runs through Kirkland Lake to Matachewan. Many of the deposits don’t actually sit within those faults. They sit in associated structures and environments, so these faults were probably major conduits for gold bearing fluids and not the actual sites. Our research helps us understand what the structural controls might be and where the deposits will form. It could be on a particular side of the regional fault or a buckle in the fault structure that might be a more prolific environment for deposits.

“All of these deposits also have alteration minerals associated with them. The original composition of the rocks has been modified by the fluids that moved through them. Sometimes, the composition and mineralogy of the alteration system is different if you’re very close to the deposit than if you’re farther away, so research such as this helps mining companies know where to look.”

In addition to funds provided by industry sponsors, MERC regularly receives matching dollars from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Collaborative Research and Development Grants Program.

New for 2015 is a research project sponsored by Boliden in collaboration with the University of Stockholm and Lulea University to develop an exploration model for the low sulfide Akulla gold and tellurium deposit type in Sweden.

Geoscience research organizations such as the Mineral Development Research Unit (MDRU) at the University of British Colombia and CODES, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposits, have been around for much longer and are better funded. However, MERC’s new five-year business plan, its location in the heart of the Canadian Shield, its focus on applied research and its access to the resources of the Ontario Geological Survey in Sudbury are compelling advantages for playing an increasingly important role in the global search for new mineral deposits.

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