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West African plant might indicate kimberlite below

May 7th, 2015

by Greg Klein | May 7, 2015

Calling it a potential game-changer for west African diamond exploration, a geologist says he’s found a plant that might grow only above kimberlites, the Huffington Post reported May 7. While tromping through the Liberian jungle Stephen Haggerty, a professor at Florida International University and head of exploration for Youssef Diamond Mining, came across a thorny plant called Pandanus candelabrum, the journal stated.

West African plant might indicate kimberlite below

Pandanus candelabrum, associated with
Liberian kimberlites, is seen here in Burkina Faso.
Photo: Marco Schmidt/Wikimedia Commons

It’s “the first plant to be described that has a marked affinity for kimberlite pipes,” Haggerty writes in the current edition of Economic Geology. “This could dramatically change the exploration dynamics for diamonds in west Africa, as geobotanical mapping and sampling is cost-effective in tough terrain.”

Unique as this discovery is, it’s hardly the first to associate specific vegetation with mineral deposits. Since the Middle Ages plants like Lychnis alpina have been linked to copper in Sweden, Haggerty pointed out. More recently Haumaniastrum katangense has been associated with copper in Africa. “Other plants have evolved to physiologically stabilize heavy metals … in leaves and bark,” he stated, adding that termite hills have been used to find kimberlite indicator minerals in Botswana, the U.S. and Australia.

Biogeochemistry, the collection and analysis of vegetation samples, can reveal chemical elements absorbed from soil and water, explains Robert Stevens in Mineral Exploration and Mining Essentials. “In some circumstances, biogeochemistry may be a more effective way of identifying anomalies than soil samples,” he related. “This is because tree roots will sample a relatively large and deep area of soil” which can be more representative than a single soil sample. Tree-borne metal anomalies also tend to be closer to their source.

The HP noted 2013 reports of gold-bearing eucalyptus trees that ingested the yellow metal from soil.

Haggerty hopes to find more Liberian kimberlites through satellite mapping of his botanical breakthrough, the HP stated.