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Using insects to search for gold
2012-12-20 0:00

Cheryl Santa Maria | TheWEatherNetwork.com

Researchers have come up with an environmentally-friendly way to mine for gold in western Australia.

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia (CSIRO) have found that ant and termite mounds can be used to indicate the presence of gold and other minerals beneath the earth.

According to CSIRO, insects could be a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly method of mineral exploration.

Traditional processes often involve drilling, which can be inaccurate and expensive in Australia.

Parts of the country’s landscape is covered with eroded material, making it difficult to gauge what type of minerals exist underground.

Ants and termites "bring up small particles that contain gold from the deposit’s fingerprint, or halo, and effectively stockpile it in their mounds," said Dr. Aaron Stewart, an entomologist at CSIRO, in a statement.

"Our recent research has shown that small ant and termite mounds that may not look like much on the surface, are just as valuable in finding gold as the large African mounds that stand several metres tall."

The findings have been published online at PLOS One.

Article from: theweathernetwork.com

Termites: So Rich Their Nests Are Made Of Gold
From: InsideScience.org

Termites are unearthing gold in Australia, and scientists suggest their nests could reveal where miners might strike it rich.

Mineral resources currently account for roughly one-third of Australia’s exports. One promising site for gold down under is the Moolart Well deposit in the Western Australian Goldfields region, but gold remains difficult to find there even after nearly 150 years of mining.

A close-up image of a Giant Northern worker termite.

"The problem that we face in mining exploration is that a layer of eroded material is covering the gold, effectively hiding it," said researcher Aaron Stewart, an entomologist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

Now Stewart and his colleagues suggest miners might want to rely on termites as miniature prospectors. The nests of the insects apparently can hold gold dust, revealing hints of treasures hidden deep underground.

"Using termite nests could help exploration companies narrow down the area that they need to drill," Stewart said. "This has the potential to save a lot of money."

Scientists have often relied on insects to guide exploration. For instance, paleontologists often root through ant mounds to look for any miniature fossil bones and teeth the insects might have carried back to their nests.

Stewart and his colleagues analyzed samples from 22 nests of the termite Tumulitermes tumuli, as well as the surrounding soil. These mounds were located in a known gold-rich area.

The researchers found the termite nests contained high concentrations of gold, with levels five to six times higher than concentrations found more than 16 feet away from the mounds. The scientists detailed their findings in the November issue of the journal Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis.

"The amount of gold found in the nests is actually very low," Stewart said. "It gives us the indication of a hidden deposit, but you can’t see the gold and you wouldn’t be able to extract any meaningful amount from the nest."

"The termites are not specifically selecting gold to bring into their nests," Stewart added. "It is a fortunate consequence of their habit of building nests, in part from material sourced a few meters below the surface."

Their findings suggest the insects can burrow three to 13 feet into the earth to reach gravel laden with traces of gold surrounding the deposit of the precious metal. "It is surprising that such small nests are able to vertically move enough material to reveal the buried resource," Stewart said.


Read the full article at: insidescience.org

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