Mining and exploration review north of the 60th parallel

Drones to Drills – Drones used for exploration, monitoring, and marketing in the Yukon

7 - drone_field3“Send in the drones” is not a statement Shawn Ryan ever imagined would pass his lips when he began prospecting in the Yukon almost 18 years ago. Today, it’s second nature.

Ryan is a well-known and highly-successful prospector who kick-started the Yukon’s second gold rush in 2009 when soil samples he collected “lit up” and ultimately lead to the discovery of the White Gold and Coffee deposits.

Now, using aerial mapping drones, lightweight mobile drills, and gigabytes of carefully collected data he’s combining traditional hard work and good science with new technology to reshape the way we explore Canada’s Yukon and beyond.

Drones to drills

Ryan was one of the first people to import a professional eBee aerial mapping drone from Swiss company, senseFly, in 2012. This autonomous drone weighs less than a kilo, stays in the air for almost an hour and covers 1.5 square kilometres in a single flight.

“We can launch it from a helicopter pad in a treed forest and it will come back in and land on that pad,” says Ryan.

Ryan and the team at Ground Truth Exploration have now flown over 700 drone surveys. They are increasing the odds of future discoveries by perfecting their fast and efficient “Drones to Drills” approach, a new, high-tech process designed to find the rich deposits of gold and copper the Yukon keeps hidden under cover.

Normally it takes a large team of workers with helicopters and heavy equipment two field seasons and up to $750, 000 to follow up on a promising soil anomaly. However, the commando-style Ground Truth Exploration team can survey the same area for $100,000 in less than two and a half weeks, any time of year.

Using geo-referenced aerial photographs collected by the drone, the Ground Truth Exploration team plan and execute a geophysical survey then send in their custom-built drills, including their purpose-built, track-mounted GT probe.

“We’re able to collect 40-50 holes per day with the GT probe, sampling as we go,” says Ryan.

This quick, low-impact process saves time and money and it’s not just the geologists who benefit either, but everyone involved in exploration and land management in the Yukon.

Beyond geological applications

While the detailed images collected by drones can locate outcropping rock and even fist-sized hand samples for exploration geologists, they’re also a practical and inexpensive way for mining inspectors or First Nations groups to monitor exploration and mining activity.

By surveying the ground before work begins and again during and after the project wraps up, drone images can be used to visualize and even quantify how much ground is disturbed.

“It’s like a report card and it’s non-invasive to begin with,” Ryan explains.

Images that sell

In addition to these environmental monitoring applications, Ryan recognises the importance of presenting scientific data to the decision-makers, marketing teams and investors in a digestible format too.

“The beauty of this system is that we can take a drone image, make a beautiful 3D model and send it to the customer in Google Earth format. They don’t have to be GIS-savvy to view it,” he says.

Raising money is what keeps exploration projects moving forward. A mix of solid scientific data and quality presentation materials should inspire fundraising in non-geological audiences too.

The next wave

Looking ahead, Ryan sees some interesting 3D visualization methods coming from the gaming industry but he’s certainly not sitting back waiting for the latest gadgets.

Technology may have put Ryan to the head of the pack but he warns that it isn’t a magic bullet. The technology responsible for the next big discovery in the Yukon has probably already been invented and is just waiting for a savvy explorer to apply it the right way to the right problem.

“If we don’t change how we do it, we’re not going to find anything.”

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