Helicopter crews snip tree tops to find minerals underground

A Geoscience BC pilot project analyzes trace elements in spruce trees to uncover minerals in difficult terrain

Clues to what mineral deposits are in the soil could be found in the tree tops. At the Kamloops Exploration Group Conference, an industry conference in Kamloops April 12 and 13, Geoscience BC will release the results of a new tree-top sampling program led by Noble Exploration Services Ltd., a geochemical survey company.

Based on samples of branches collected by helicopter from 80-100-year-old spruce trees, the TREK (Targeting Resources through Exploration and Knowledge) study examined whether trace amounts of metals in the trees could uncover new mineral deposits. “It’s well established that coniferous trees such as spruce can pick up metals and other elements from the soil and concentrate them in the bark, twigs and needles,” said Bruce Madu, vice-president, minerals and mining, at Geoscience BC, in a release. “Through this program, we hope to provide new information that will encourage people to take a fresh look at the area’s mineral potential.”

Over a six-day period in June 2015, researchers collected samples from nearly 400 healthy spruce trees using a helicopter flying over a 1,000-square-kilometre area in the Chilcotin Plateau of central B.C. Much of the area has been covered by previous geochemical surveys, but the thick vegetation cover and limited road networks in several key tracts of prospective ground have restricted exploration. There are several developed mineral prospects in the region that contain gold, silver, zinc, lead and copper mineralization.

The tree-top sampling program is a Geoscience BC pilot program designed to evaluate the effectiveness of this technique over a much larger area than previous projects. Over the past three years, Geoscience BC’s $4-million multidisciplinary TREK project has tried to provide a better understanding of the geology and mineral potential of a 24,000-square-kilometre area that extends south from Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake and west from Quesnel.

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