World’s geoscience experts gather in Perth

Richard Roberts

Editor in chief

‘You and I get paid to solve puzzles’

The ‘full-house’ sign went up at Perth’s Optus Stadium this week with more than 520 geoscientists packing the River View Room for the AusIMM’s inaugural Mineral Resource Estimation conference. “The work we do is not just exciting … it’s critical,” veteran geologist Rene Sterk told peers in his opening address.

“Our work is the nexus of years of exploration or development and a key decision node in the mining value chain,” Sterk said.

“In an industry where discoveries are getting rarer, where reasonable prospects of economic extraction are becoming harder and harder to define, and where [the] squeeze between community, environment and progress puts pressure on our morals as well as our bottom lines, the margins of error are becoming smaller and smaller.

“Getting the question of how much we have right is our great responsibility and we are here today to do justice to that responsibility.”

Day one of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy event featured keynote contributions from Dr Isobel Clark – “a giant in the world of geostatistics and resource estimation” – and another industry doyen, BHP head of geoscience excellence, Dr Cam McCuaig.

Leaders from around the world discussed the increasing role of machine learning and deep learning in mineral discovery targeting and resource evaluation, the impending “codification” of environmental, social and governance factors in mineral reporting, and the threats posed by a projected mass exodus of experienced personnel across the geoscience disciplines. will present insights into the important trends and issues canvassed over the next week.

“Surely we have hit the jackpot by putting [so many] geostatisticians and geologists in one room,” Sterk told delegates.

“We’ve hired psychiatrists to watch you all interact and the results will be published at the next year’s conference.

“One thing that I am sure we can all agree on is that it is a discipline that is always exciting and never leaves you thinking that you know it all or that you will ever know it all.

Rene Sterk, principal of geological consulting firm, RSC

“You and I get paid to solve puzzles.

“I am actually convinced that this industry, this discipline, is about what I call range.

“Forget the 10,000-hour rule. Forget about Tiger Woods putting 10 hours a day when he was two years old to become the world’s best golfer.

“What creates a level-nine wizard in the discipline of resource estimation is range.

“It’s not just having more than five years’ experience. Range is about the different models that you’ve built, the different controls on mineralisation you’ve worked with, the many different teams and people with different opinions you’ve worked with and interacted with, and the many models you’ve seen reconciled.

“Range is about knowing programming, but not being a Python expert. It’s about knowing your geology, but not being an expert on the petrologic and petro-chronological record of progressive versus polyphase deformation.

“It’s about knowing your theory of sampling, but not having Pierre Gy’s book memorised page by page.

“It’s the tapestry that binds all the curious aspects of resource estimation together and then some.

“You’re a JORC of all trades.

“But we have a tendency … to under-promise and over-deliver.

“And as a discipline, we tend to be a bit conservative.

“Forty per cent of our estimates in the last 12 months reported to public markets are still done using inverse distance. And 20 years after the application of implicit modelling, about half of the domains are still explicitly built.

“We need to be better at breaking through the status quo.”


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