Unearthing South Australia’s mines of the future

Last year, Unearthed’s Explorer Challenge attracted data scientists and geologists from more than 60 countries around the globe. For this year’s Gawler Challenge, there are already participants from over 90 countries involved.

The joint winner of the 2019 Prospect Award for Innovation Mining Solution (with OZ Minerals) has been busy since taking home the honour, launching the Gawler Challenge in South Australia last December.

Similarly with the Explorer Challenge, data scientists and geologists from around the world will come together to gather new data on prospective exploration regions.
Although working together, those participating in the challenge are competing for $250,000 in prize money for the most innovative mineral exploration learning methods and models.

Unlike the Explorer Challenge though, this time the results will be shared with the public, allowing exploration companies to view these results and make educated decisions on which areas to explore, giving them an idea of what is waiting to be unearthed.

Running from December to July, the Gawler Challenge aims to give development opportunities to data scientists, geologists and exploration companies, while shining a light on South Australia as a prospective region for discovering new mineral deposits, according to Unearthed industry lead – crowdsourcing Holly Bridgwater.

“For South Australia, there’s lots of benefits from the Gawler Challenge in helping to build the exploration sector there, which can lead to the development of new businesses and draw significant global investment into South Australia,” Bridgwater tells Australian Mining.

“The way the Gawler Challenge works is people all over the world can enter no matter where they are and connect to others with digital skills and distribute these skillsets globally.”

Unearthed’s winner of the Explorer Challenge, which was the first challenge of this kind it hosted, Team Guru comprising of Michael Rodda, Jesse Ober and Glen Willis combined their skills to create interpretable machine learning models for mineral exploration.

The organisation has high hopes for the competitors this time around, as it expects double the participants to have signed up for the Gawler Challenge as did the Explorer Challenge, when the competition closes at the end of July.

“The key difference from the last challenge was it was run with OZ Minerals, a private mining company, whereas the Gawler Challenge is being run by the South Australian government,” Bridgwater explains.

“This means all of the results will be made public at the conclusion of the challenge so the entire mineral exploration community will be able to benefit.

“By the time the competition ends on July 31, it looks like we will have over 2000 people registered to take part, which is double what we had in the Explorer Challenge, it’s fantastic to see the growth of the community of people taking part in these challenges.”

After six weeks of reviewing and combining each team’s results, Unearthed will release the data to the public during September and select the winning team.

From here, exploration companies will be able to assess the data and take the opportunity to discover South Australia’s next Olympic Dam or Prominent Hill.

“There’s a lot to be discovered in South Australia, it houses some world class deposits,” Bridgwater says.

“Olympic Dam is one of the biggest copper deposits in the world and some of the deposits we are gathering data on are quite similar, deep styles to other prospective sites like Prominent Hill and Carrapateena.

“South Australia is one of the most prospective regions in the world in terms of the density of world-class deposits and as we saw in 2018 when BHP discovered Oak Dam West, there’s still a lot of major discoveries waiting to be found.”

This also means exploration companies can obtain completed data and targeting exercises, saving time and allowing them to make more educated decisions about which mineral resources to target for the best chance of making a discovery.

“People working in the exploration sector don’t often have the time or people to go out and complete targeting exercises,” Bridgwater says.

“The Gawler Challenge will provide a whole part of that process done by the community of data scientists and geologists, bridging the gap between data and discoveries.

“This way, people in the exploration sector can make better decisions and choose which targets to go for and get out and start drilling to make discoveries sooner.”

While other industries are experiencing a slowdown due to the coronavirus, Unearthed has seen more interest than ever in the Gawler Challenge, as people look to new opportunities for careers or even just as something to do on the side with their spare time.

“It is really good timing for Unearthed to attract people to partake in an activity like the Gawler Challenge,” Bridgwater explains.

“Many people can’t get out on the ground for exploration, so being able to come together and add value to this data is great forward-planning for when we can get back out on the ground.”

As well as unearthing the next prospective deposits in South Australia, the challenge also provides a foundation for data scientists and geologists to build their skills in an industry they may not have considered working in before.

In the case of some of the Explorer Challenge participants, some even used the opportunity as a platform to build their own new businesses within the industry.

“Unearthed is a big believer of doing these open innovation challenges because it helps everybody to improve and learn industry-wide knowledge,” Bridgwater says.

“Exercises such as the Gawler Challenge in the data science space are good opportunity for everyone to learn new skills and apply them to mining and exploration.”

With this influx of new people coming into the industry and bringing with them fresh ideas, Bridgwater believes activities such as the Gawler Challenge are helping to build a strong future within the industry.

“It’s a great way to get new people and businesses into the industry,” she continues. “A lot of people don’t experience mining in everyday life, so this is a good opportunity to attract more people into the industry to understand it better.

“Some of the best stories we get out of our challenges is seeing people find opportunities to start a business, especially for people who have never worked in the mining industry before.”

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