What is UNCOVER?
UNCOVER is an initiative that brings together geoscience researchers in industry, governments and academia, to explore and uncover Australia’s hidden mineral wealth.
It builds on a previous report, Searching the Deep Earth: A vision for exploration geoscience in Australia (launched in 2012), which called for Australian Earth scientists to cooperate in an innovative, structured and nationally coordinated strategic venture that will bring competitive advantage to Australian mineral exploration.
The UNCOVER Australia Roadmap
The UNCOVER Roadmap, published in 2017, sets out a new paradigm for mineral exploration built on major advances in our understanding of the genesis of orebodies and our ability to interpret and measure their geochemical traces over distances of many kilometres. The new paradigm is based on prediction, rather than prospecting, and promises to dramatically improve the effectiveness of exploration under cover.
Why do we need UNCOVER?
To raise exploration success in the covered areas of Australia back to what it was in the uncovered areas during the 1970s and 80s. Three-quarters of Australia is covered, so it’s potentially a trillion-dollar prize. If only we could find it. We need new technologies to look deeper into the Earth to understand the ground beneath our feet.
Australians are lucky to have a continent that is richly endowed with minerals, but our old and deeply weathered continent is also uniquely challenging for mineral explorers. Unlike other resource-rich nations such as Canada, Chile and Africa, about 70% of our landmass is covered by thick soils, sands and sediments that hide potential orebodies in the Earth’s crust.
Discoveries in the 30% of exposed or near-exposed crust account for most of the mineral wealth we enjoy today. While they have supported decades of national prosperity, our economic resources of base metals and gold are running out. And despite being at the forefront of global exploration best practice, Australia has yet to develop successful methods for exploring under cover.
The dilemma is best summed up in one statistic: 80% of Australia’s current mineral production is from mines discovered prior to 1980. Given that it takes more than a decade to bring a major discovery into development, Australia needs urgent action today to avoid a sharp downturn in mineral exports in the next 10 to 15 years.
The purpose of UNCOVER Australia is to focus Australia’s relevant geoscience effort on providing the knowledge base and technology that will substantially increase the success rate of mineral exploration beneath post-mineralisation cover in Australia.
Learning how to explore successfully under cover is a huge task that is beyond the resources of any one organisation or government agency. We need to dramatically accelerate the work that is already being done by Geoscience Australia and the government surveys in states and territories, as well as drive bold new approaches that represent a paradigm change in exploration practice.
The six core themes of the UNCOVER initiative are:
Is it just about minerals? What else will UNCOVER do?
Mineral exploration is an important application for the knowledge that UNCOVER will generate, but it is not the only one. UNCOVER aims to develop new understanding about our whole continent and its formation, which is sure to disrupt many aspects of Earth and environmental science. Australia may be able to manage natural hazards better, forecast tsunamis more accurately in our region, better model our past to help predict future changes in climate, and even understand our groundwater resources in a whole new way…
© 2023 Australian Academy of Science