Did you know that Amira’s West African Exploration Initiative, WAXI, is connected to our South American Exploration Initiative, SAXI?
We spoke to WAXI Project Lead Professor Mark Jessell from the University of Western Australia, and Amira Manager Collaborations Hayley McGillivray about this and other WAXI-geology related topics.
WAXI4 is set to begin in next year with a growing list of sponsors already signed up. It will augment the exploration potential of the Leo-Man shield, which includes Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Morocco.
The project will continue previous work examining the mineral systems in the Birimian terranes and neighbouring Archean, Pan-African Meso-Proterozoic to Phanerozoic basins, characterising and evaluating the role of the lithospheric and crustal architecture on the development of mineral systems through time.
What has given WAXI longevity?
Mark: We were lucky enough 15 years ago to start working in an area that has become more prospective and recognised on the international mining and exploration scene as somewhere for companies to go. It allows small companies to become established and reach the mining stage, and larger companies to find deposits that are big enough to work over that timeframe.
How does WAXI benefit industry and region?
Mark: The main benefit to industry is to fill their knowledge gaps. West Africa is still scientifically poorly understood compared to areas of similar geology, such as Western Australia and Canada.
Geology is the first tool companies use to decide where to take ground, so the better we understand the geology the better they can do terrain selection. The more we understand about a region the easier it is for a company to make a choice as to whether they want to go there at all.
We are also able to work on a scale that most companies in West African cannot achieve. The area we cover is about the same surface area as Western Australia, except that it is divided into 14 countries that speak four different languages.
The other aspect of WAXI is that it is helping to train the next generation of geoscientists in West Africa. The WAXI project has supported close to 100 graduates of which two thirds are African. These students are getting jobs in industry, in surveys and lecturing in universities.
Integrating them into the next round of WAXI has been a really important part of how WAXI4 differs from earlier stages of the project; we are now seeing the benefits of the earlier projects incorporating these students as researchers in their own right, which is fantastic.
When you ask companies why they support WAXI, half of the value comes from the data and understanding and half from the training provided to research students and the company staff. Continuing to build that network of researchers in West Africa is very important.
Why is the region ‘poorly understood’?
Mark: West Africa is in interesting transition period. We have the Archean period of Canada, Western Australia and South Africa that have seen a lot of research over the last 100 years.
West Africa is geologically slightly younger than that. It is transitioning to the modern earth. It is reasonable to assume that the West Africa geology records the transition from older style of tectonics to what is going on to the earth today. There are few other places where that is true, and they have not had as much research afforded to them.
Transitioning to the modern earth. What does this mean?
Mark: Today we can see why there are volcanos where there are volcanos and earthquakes where there are earthquakes in the context of plate tectonics, which is the current paradigm for how the earth works.
There is still significant argument about what the what the world looked like 2.5 half billion years ago and West Africa is just at that transition. Things were clearly changing, and we’d don’t know why. And that’s what makes it interesting.
How are WAXI and SAXI linked?
Mark: Today we have the Atlantic Ocean separating the Guiana shield and the Amazon craton in general, which is hosted by Venezuela, Sierra Leone, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Brazil.
If you close the Atlantic Ocean, you will see that part of South America glues together with West Africa, where we are doing our research.
If you go back two billion years – which is when the fun things were happening in these places – it’s much less clear whether they were already neighbours at the time.
One of the nice things about having projects in West Africa and South America is that we have access to large compilations of data across the regions. Hopefully, this will help put those two pieces of the jigsaw back together in their correct position, if indeed they were next to each other at the time.
Does WAXI have benefits beyond the mining sector?
Mark: The earth started to have more oxygen in the atmosphere at the time of the formation of the rocks we are studying. This coincides with a change in the type of life on the planet. So, the information we are gathering goes back to some fundamental large-scale discussions about what the earth looked like at the time.
In the end, that’s what geology is about. We know what the earth looks like today and we know that it looked different in the past, but just how different was it and in what ways.
Where would like to see WAXI go in the future?
Hayley: WAXI is so significant in a couple of ways. It is producing some fundamental research but also, it’s combining that regional and deposit scale understanding which is critical information we need to help us unravel the series of events that caused the deposits to be there. It’s also doing significant work around upskilling and in-country training.
I have been giving consideration to what is next for WAXI. Do we have further locations which require a similar project? Is there additional work to be done in West Africa to support implementation of the knowledge developed?
Members are welcome to join?
Hayley: Yes, WAXI is currently open for sponsorship and has already had good uptake. If anyone would like further conversations to understand how this may benefit their organisation I would welcome a conversation.
WAXI is a very special project because of the other value it is giving, and I think that is why this project has lasted such a long time.