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Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Improved mineral exploration and exploitation strategies

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The big science question: The Zambian Copperbelt represents the largest known repository of copper on Earth. Research at the University of Southampton has resulted in fundamental changes to the existing mineral exploration paradigm which emerged through a new scientific understanding of the processes responsible for Ore Formation. The major impact of the research has thus been economic in providing more exploration targets to aid better exploitation of ore bodies in the Zambian Basin, against a background of global increasing demand and market price of copper. The new approach will also impact mineral exploration elsewhere around the globe where these types of ores are hosted.

Research details

A combination of field observations, major and trace element geochemistry and stable isotope techniques by researchers in Southampton has shown that the copper-cobalt ore deposits of the Copperbelt region preserved hitherto unrecognised signals of setting and potential timing of formation. The research recognised for the first time that mineralization was related to basin inversion and shear zones within the basement rocks, and that thermochemical sulphate reduction was a key process in the formation of the mineralization. These new data indicated that successful ore deposit exploration within the Zambian Basin requires the recognition of the differing styles and timing of mineralization, which in turn provides new exploration targets beyond those given by the traditional exploration paradigm for the region.

Key facts:

  • The main benefit of the work has been economic, and impacted the exploitation of available reserves through developing new exploration targets for the Zambia Copperbelt.
  • The work has dramatically increased the potential of areas licensed by companies, through providing a range of exploration targets rather than a single target type based on the “original” understanding of ore formation in the region.
  • The beneficiaries of the research include UK-PLC through Major and Junior Mineral Exploration Companies. Although active in Zambia many of these companies are UK based or listed on the UK Stock Exchange.


The mineral layout
The mineral layout
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