Termites can help miners locate gold, diamond reserves

May 8th, 2009 - 1:43 pm ICT by ANI  

Melbourne, May 8 (ANI): Termites could easily be called a miner’s best friend, for a researcher has said that these insects can help locate gold and diamond reserves saving both money and time.

Geoscientist Anna Petts, who has made this finding as part of her PhD research, says that local villagers in Africa are known to pan soil from termites mounds to recover gold nuggets up to 1 centimetre in size.

“If you can walk there and take termite samples to check whether it really is worth coming through with bigger equipment, then it would save a lot of time and money for a lot of companies,” ABC News quoted Petts as saying.

Petts points out that mining companies usually rely on remote sensing and surface sampling of sediment to determine where to sink their exploratory drills.

However, sediment on the surface is often spread by weathering and cannot be a reliable predictor of what lies beneath the surface.

Besides, drilling is one of the biggest costs to mining, and thus researchers have been on the look out for more reliable methods of deciding where to drill in the first place.

And that’s when termites come to the rescue, according to Petts, who said that termites dig up to 30 metres below the surface to collect damp soil and other material with which they build their mounds.

She also said that diamond minerals such as garnet have also been found in termite mounds in the Kalahari desert, where there is up to 100 metres of sand between the diamond-containing bedrock and the surface.

Currently, Petts is studying whether termites in Australia could help the mining industry, for which she examined termite mounds in the Tanami desert in Central Australia where the mineral content already known.

“Usually I take about a 500 gram to 1 kilogram sample of the outer nets wall … put it in a plastic bag and take it back into lab for analysis, said Petts.

She said that damage to the mounds is minimal and repaired quickly by termites.

Till date, her results have shown the termite mounds show what lies beneath.

“Often the minerals that we found in the mounds weren’t present at the surface, but were present deeper in the profile from the actual bedrock - 20 or 30 metres down,” said Petts

Petts is now hoping to test the technique on unexplored areas.

The research has been published by the Geological Society. (ANI)

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