UBC researchers help explorers better understand Yukon and Alaskan geology
by Greg Klein
They’re not necessarily the mob you’d find whooping it up in the Malamute Saloon. But the spell of the Yukon and neighbouring Alaska has attracted a unique collaboration of industry and academia with a mission—to unravel some of the geology that remains mysterious after more than a century of scrutiny. Demonstrated dramatically by Goldcorp’s (TSX:G) $520-million takeout of Kaminak Gold, the land of Robert Service, Jack London and countless TV reality shows still has considerable mineral wealth to be found.
Joining the search are students and faculty from the University of British Columbia’s Mineral Deposit Research Unit. Catalysed by the discovery of the territory’s White Gold district, the group conducted its Yukon Gold Project from 2010 to 2012. They returned in 2014 with the current Yukon-Alaska Metallogeny project, partly inspired by the Kaminak discovery.
“We’re basically looking at everything from the Yukon-B.C. border all the way up to the Fairbanks area,” MDRU research associate Murray Allan tells ResourceClips.com. “It’s an enormous package of ground.”
The region includes Kaminak’s Coffee, Western Copper and Gold’s (TSX:WRN) Casino and Copper North Mining’s (TSXV:COL) Carmacks deposits, among other resources in the Dawson Range Mineral Belt.
Much of the work involves “digesting public information, assimilating already-existing data into coherent data sets that can be of value to companies when they’re deciding where to target,” Allan explains. “In parallel to that we’re doing our own field work, looking at areas that are poorly understood, sampling rocks, understanding the age and the controls on mineralization so companies can make much better technical exploration decisions.”
It’s “a huge, collaborative effort,” he emphasizes. “What we do relies 100% on the participation of industry sponsors and the exploration industry as a whole. Just as important is the relationship we have with the various government surveys.”
Last month the group collected a $557,670 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The project also gets $700,000 in direct and in-kind contributions from Kaminak, Sumac Mines and Copper North. The MDRU works closely with the Yukon Geological Survey and also with the national surveys of Canada and the U.S.
Kaminak president Eira Thomas credited the group with bringing “a high level of scientific rigour … to our geological understanding of the Coffee gold resource. This knowledge ultimately contributes to improved exploration and development planning.”
The region’s lack of glaciation presents challenges as well as benefits, Allan points out. There’s little rock at surface, so trenching plays a bigger role in early-stage work. On the other hand, soils have largely stayed put for an awfully long time. “For example, if a program identifies a gold anomaly in soils, almost certainly they’re very close to a bedrock source of mineralization.” That helps explain legendary prospector Shawn Ryan’s success in sparking the Yukon’s most recent gold rush.
Speaking of legendary, the Klondike gold fields sit within the project area. There, the lack of glaciation “led to very deep weathering of mineralized rock, which ultimately led to the efficient accumulation of placer gold deposits,” Allan points out. Probably 20 million ounces or more have been pulled out of Klondike creeks. Yet a bedrock source of gold that’s economic by current mining standards remains elusive.
“Up until now, despite lots of effort, there’s been no notable discoveries of gold in the ground. Either it’s a problem with the exploration methods or our understanding of what controls gold in the Klondike, or perhaps there’s a good geological reason why there might not be huge quantities of gold in economic concentrations in the ground,” he says.
“Our role is to understand what controls mineralization of any age and any style. That plays into the structural controls, whether faults of a particular orientation might be important, or whether a certain igneous rock of a particular age might play a role. We have examples of both. We’ve identified a large number of systems related to Late Cretaceous intrusions, for example, which we know are very fertile for copper and gold mineralization. But the White Gold district that kicked off in 2009, for example, has no intrusions to our knowledge that control mineralization there. The gold seems to be purely associated with faults.”
Having wrapped up 2016 field work last month, the group’s back at UBC, busy processing samples and compiling data. Their findings, often in the form of maps and data sets, go first to industry sponsors. That gives the companies a short-term advantage during a period of confidentiality. Then the info goes public, in a thesis or academic publication.
But even back in Vancouver, the spell of the Yukon remains.
“It’s an interesting role for us to play, doing modern, cutting-edge science in an area that has that industrial heritage,” Allan says. “I don’t think anyone working in that area would deny that’s part of the appeal. But the fact remains that there’s a lot of gold we know about, for example in placer creeks, but not much knowledge about the source of that gold. So there remains a huge amount of potential for hard rock explorers in that part of the world. There’s a very legitimate economic reason for investment and exploration in that part of the Yukon and Alaska.”
The MDRU returns to the field next June.