Explore 2020 Conference

Featured Image: Chile Explore Group

Last week I attended the Explore 2020 conference e-hosted by the Chile Explore Group. The 4-day event features talks on porphyry deposit geology and exploration, geometallurgy, industry trends and the impacts of COVID-19, drilling, geochemistry, discovery stories, machine learning, and an investor’s day project showcase. The diversity of topics and range of industry and academic speakers made for a wonderful week of geology from the mantle to machine learning.

DAY 1 - Copper

My commute to the conference was short and as it was running to Chilean summer time my day didn’t start until 1pm (GMT). The theme of Day 1 was copper, fitting for a conference in a continent bathed in the metal.

Kicking off the proceedings was Dr. Constantino Mpodozis (Senior Expert Geo, Antofagasta Minerals). His talk discussed the spatial variance in porphyry deposit types across the Central Andes and how their distribution was related to large-scale structural, kinematic, and tectonic processes in the recent geology history of the Andean Cordillera. Following this, Barabara Romero (Principle Geo, BHP) gave a fleeting visit to the work BHP did to understand the structural architecture of northern Chile.

Instead of spending my mid-morning break milling around the conference centre with a cup of obscenely hot coffee, I instead ate my lunch and sent some emails. Talks from Dr. Stuart Smith (VP Explo, NDH Mining), Dr. Alan Wilson (Consultant), and Dr. William Chavez (Prof. Geo Eng, New Mexico School of Mines) filled the next few hours with porphyry geochronology, field evaluation, and exploration geochemistry, respectively.

The first day was rounded off nicely by two discovery stories by Dr. David Burrows (Chief Geo, Cu-Ni, Vale) and Juan Burlando (Senior Geo, FQM) of the Onto Cu-Au and Cobre Panama Cu-Mo-Au discoveries, respectively. However, the highlight of my day was listening to Dr. Chavez get into the nitty gritty of geochemical dispersion in the weathering environment. It’s a fascinatingly complex topic and it made me glad I was sitting at my desk and not in a conference hall, the sound of my fervent note taking would likely have miffed off a few people.

DAY 2 - Gold

Day 2 started with an interesting talk by Dr. Jon Hronsky, who for the first time presented the model he and his colleagues have been working on that describes a unified model for gold mineralisation. The overall theme of the day was in fact gold so this was a pretty good place to start. The rest of the day was filled with practical-focussed discussions on epithermal mineralisation and exploration, the highlight of which for me was learning about the Cerro Blanco deposit (Bluestone Resources) from the VP of Exploration David Cass. The deposit is very young (~4.5Ma!) and therefore incredibly well preserved and made for a bit of a show-stopper slideshow.

Day 2 marked the end of the good old socks and sandals geology content. The focus on Chilean geology was a nice diversity from the overprescribed coverage of certain metallogenic regions (admittedly, some written by myself) and studying in the UK means you don’t as often come across South American geology as you do the closure of the Iapetus Ocean, for example. It was a thoroughly welcome geology lesson.

DAY 3 - The Future is Now

Day 3 had no set theme but my phrase to sum up would be “The future is now”. It began with a few lectures on drilling technologies of which Dr. Michelle Carey’s talk on the use of real-time downhole data in automated rig optimisation and operation was my favourite. One of those things that you don’t have to be an expert in to appreciate the significance, and coolness, of the tech.

I unfortunately had to skip out on the Geometallurgy talks for other work obligations, but I returned with excitement for the Machine Learning and Data Analytics section. Having scratched the surface of geoscientific ML in my dissertation, this was the part I was most looking forward to. All 3 talks were fantastic and really spoke to the underappreciated huge potential of ML-integrated exploration. The day ended on two technical Geochemistry-focussed talks from industry about streamlining orientation studies (Miguel Martinez) and assessing porphyry potential using pXRF in the field (Dr. Ayesha Ahmed).

Day 3 made it clear that the industry is rapidly adapting to advancing technology and increased computational power to become more efficient and thoughtful from A to B.

DAY 4 - Industry and Investors

A fitting end to the week, Day 4 delegates discussed the industry with respect to its central position in the energy transition and the impacts of covid-19. The former talk by Lucy Crane was a succinct and well-put summary of the stats and facts explaining why the mining industry has become more critical than ever, and how Cornish Lithium are taking their place to be a part of a changing face. But Explore 2020 was based in and focussed on the economic potential of Chile and South America…so lets get back to that. Maria Cristina Güell, the National Mining Policy Coordinator for Chile’s Ministry of Mining, gave a wonderful run down of the future of Chilean mining policy. The stand out for me was the inclusion of an indigenous chapter, and focus on diverse collaboration between students, institutions, companies, communities, and governing bodies to ensure the sustainable development of their industry.

Following her talk was an afternoon of project showcases in rapid succession. While I find it hard not to fall for every colourful alteration sequence and GIS map, a few projects stood out to me. David Kelley’s presentation of Chakana Copper’s Soledad discovery and Stephen Hughes’ of C3 Metals’ high-grade copper-gold deposit were my two highlights, but we’ll get into those at a later date perhaps. For now, I recommend checking the projects out!

For all you miss at a virtual conference, the in-person networking, the atmosphere, etc., there are some advantages if you ask me. 1. coffee is free, and 2. you can take a lot more notes from the talks. The latter point is potentially slightly more important, as a younger person in industry learning is a prerogative and having the opportunity to listen to experts is invaluable. My experience of the Explore 2020 conference was both insightful and enjoyable, so watch this space for some in-depth coverage of the major themes of the conference!

Esme