White Gold adds AI to exploration system
Yukon explorer taps Minerva to take drones-to-drills further Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – April 15, 2020
Last updated 6/27/2020 at 5:48am
White Gold Corp. is adding artificial intelligence to the exploration toolbox at its disposal as the innovative company unlocks the massive gold potential of its namesake district in the heart of Canada's Yukon Territory.
White Gold already employs a systematic exploration strategy that combines traditional mineral exploration techniques such as soil sampling and good old-fashioned prospecting with state-of-the-art technologies such as the use of drones for lidar mapping and geophysics.
This strategy, dubbed drones-to-drills, generates a lot of valuable data – an ideal scenario for the emergence of AI in the field of mineral exploration.
To find out what AI can do with the massive volume of data it has generated across its 422,730-hectare (more than 1 million acres) of mineral properties in the Yukon, White Gold has entered into a contract with Minerva Intelligence Inc., an artificial intelligence company primarily focused on earth sciences.
"We're excited for the new insights Minerva can show us," said White Gold Corp. Chief Technical Officer Shawn Ryan.
Dubbed "king of the new Yukon gold rush" by the New York Times, Ryan has built a golden reputation through human intelligence, hard work, perseverance and the development of a systematic exploration strategy that is unlocking Yukon's gold potential – a rich endowment that is hidden from the eyes of geologists due to a blanket of wind-blown glacial sediment that covers almost all of the potentially gold-bearing rocks across much of the Yukon and Alaska.
With little in the way of outcropping rocks to observe and hammer, geologists rely on sampling the blanket of overlying soil and geophysics to provide clues to the makeup of the rocks hidden below this loess, a loosely compacted yellowish-gray deposit of windblown sediment. Deducing the most promising rocks during this phase is vital to the efficiency of the exploration company. This is because the next phase, drilling, is expensive.
While some combination of geochemical sampling and geophysics is used by nearly every mineral explorer, Ryan has incorporated these common methods into a disciplined and systematic system. This system starts off with extensive soil and rock sampling, prospecting and mapping. Promising targets turned up with this work are then tested with a GT Probe, a track mounted rig invented by Dawson City, Yukon-based GroundTruth Exploration, capable of testing the top of bedrock. This effective and efficient test deeper into the loess cover helps to narrow targets for rotary air blast drilling, a low-cost form of bedrock drilling that reveals more bedrock information, including mineralization, but is limited in the depth it can probe. Only the targets that continue to show promise after all these earlier steps are delineated with a full drill program.
Earlier renditions of this exploration regiment helped Ryan to make two of the most exciting gold discoveries in Yukon's now-famed White Gold District – the roughly 5-million-ounce Coffee Gold deposit that is now being advanced toward mine development by Newmont Corp. and the nearly 2-million-oz White Gold project being explored by White Gold Corp.
Over the past decade, Ryan and GroundTruth have further refined this exploration strategy and brought in drones that can provide highly detailed aerial imaging, including lidar that can see past the brush and other surface interferences to provide a glimpse of the geological structures lying below the wind-blown glacial loess.
This drones-to-drills technique has uncovered a new gold-rich area of the White Gold District that shows the potential to be larger, higher-grade and frankly, even more exciting than either of two most famous discoveries made by Ryan – there are several that can trace their roots back to his prospecting.
Golden Vertigo area
The exciting new area recently revealed by White Gold, and where Minerva's AI solutions will be implemented, is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of the Ryan discovery that put the White Gold District on the map.
Centered on the Vertigo discovery, the area where the Minerva AI will be tested includes numerous drones-to-drills-generated targets across a roughly 100-square-mile (260 square kilometers) area that covers part of a property known as JP Ross, as well as the Titan discovery on the neighboring Hen property.
The exploration of these targets has been advanced to various stages. Vertigo, which is at the drilling end of the drones-to-drills program, is the most advanced.
The 2018 discovery hole at Vertigo cut 3.1 meters of 56.25 grams per metric ton gold. While most holes host more modest grades, drilling at Vertigo is showing nice gold grades over potentially mineable widths.
At the other end of the spectrum is Titan, a 2019 discovery about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Vertigo and 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the original White Gold discovery.
One sample from Titan returned 113 g/t gold, the highest-grade of more than 400,000 soil samples collected so far by White Gold Corp.
Rock samples collected from the area have returned some equally impressive numbers, including samples that contained 605 g/t (19.5 ounces per ton), 497 g/t (16 oz/t), 113 g/t (3.6 oz/t) and 78.3 g/t (2.5 oz/t) gold.
Rotary air blast (RAB) drilling carried out last fall tapped a bedrock source for the strong gold mineralization found on the surface of Titan.
The second hole drilled at Titan, HENTTN19RAB-02, cut 6.09 meters averaging 72.81 g/t gold, including 3.05 meters averaging 136.36 g/t gold.
This bonanza grade intercept was within a 32-meter-thick zone averaging 14.82 g/t gold, making the Titan discovery one of the strongest holes ever drilled in the White Gold District.
"These results represent the first pass drilling on the new Titan discovery and are another successful demonstration of our methodical data-based exploration strategy, including our step-by-step approach of a regional soil program, ground geophysical surveys, GT probing, trenching, geological mapping and other activities," Ryan said on the release of the results in November. "The process led us to directly target this unique magnetite rich mineralization, and again demonstrate that the White Gold District is very prospective ground for various styles of gold mineralization."
A second opinion from AI
As effective as the White Gold exploration strategy has been, Ryan believes AI has the potential to be another tool that could increase the effectiveness and lower the costs of its gold exploration.
"By using Minerva's cognitive AI to identify the geochemical relationships between various structures, we can essentially get an unbiased second opinion to augment our own exploration efforts – and at a price that's about the cost of a single RAB hole," said Ryan.
Minerva can deliver such insights by using their cognitive AI applications to identify multi-element zones in the vast dataset White Gold has generated, which are too time consuming and complicated to identify by conventional means; associate these zones with relevant bedrock characteristics and geological structures; and express this knowledge of identified exploration vectors extracted from White Gold's exploration data in a form that enables computer reasoning.
Minerva's cognitive reasoning platform can then extend its AI work by comparing the identified vectors to hundreds of past and present mines throughout the world, short-listing those most similar to White Gold targets. The output from this exercise is expected to generate reliable, explainable models upon which White Gold geologists can use to narrow targets for the most expensive phase of mineral exploration – drilling.
If Minerva's AI is able to help identify gold-rich bedrock hidden below cover in the Vertigo-Titan area, Ryan has plenty of more targets to investigate across roughly 1 million acres of claims in the White Gold District, and this Yukon district is not the only gold-rich area that could benefit from a cutting-edge exploration tool that can help deduce the most promising drill targets.
"We are thrilled to be working with White Gold and Shawn Ryan in the exploration space, furthering our strategy of applying our technology to the mining and geohazard sectors," said Minerva Intelligence CEO Scott Tillman. "While this is the first phase of the contract, we are optimistic that it will showcase the vast scope of what our technology is able to do."