| Termites are a miner's best friend|
|Termites could help miners locate gold and diamond reserves saving money and time, says one researcher.|
The findings come from PhD research by geoscientist Anna Petts, studying with the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide.
"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," says Petts
According to Petts, mining companies usually rely on remote sensing and surface sampling of sediment to determine where to sink their exploratory drills.
But, she says, sediment on the surface is often spread by weathering and can be an unreliable predictor of what lies beneath the surface.
At A$100 a metre, drilling is one the biggest costs to mining, so the search is always on for more reliable methods of deciding where to drill in the first place.
Enter, the termites.
Termites dig up to 30 metres below the surface to collect damp soil and other material with which they build their mounds, says Petts.
She says local villagers in Africa are known to pan soil from termites mounds to recover gold nuggets up to 1 centimetre in size.
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, says Petts.
Petts is curently assessing whether termites in Australia could help the mining industry.
She examined termite mounds in the Tanami desert in Central Australia where the mineral content is 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, says Petts.
She says damage to the mounds is minimal and repaired quickly by termites.
To date, her results have shown the termite mounds reflect 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," says Petts
Petts now hopes to test the technique on unexplored areas.
The research is being publicised by the Geological Society of Australia and supported by the Co-operative Research Centre for Landscape, Environment and Mineral Exploration and Geoscience Australia.