21 June 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Pixabay
Drilling rig
Two boreholes will be drilled for the Bushveld Complex Drilling Project, including a 600 m deep hole to the north of Mokopane and a 3 km deep hole northwest of Burgersfort.

An international group of researchers coordinated by scientists of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of the Free State, and the Friedrich-Alexander University, recently received funding to the value of US$1,5 million from the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP). They will conduct scientific drilling in the Bushveld Complex, regarded as the most valuable mineral provinces on Earth.

The Bushveld Complex, located in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West and Gauteng provinces, hosts the majority of global platinum-group element, chromium, and vanadium resources, in addition to major deposits of copper, nickel, gold, tin, iron, fluorite, and dimension stone. 

According to Prof Freddie Roelofse, Associate Professor in the Department of Geology, the project aims to clarify several unresolved scientific questions related to the genesis of this unique body of rocks and its associated mineral deposits. 
“Two boreholes will be drilled as part of the project, including a 600 m deep hole to the north of Mokopane and a 3 km deep hole northwest of Burgersfort,” said Prof Roelofse.

The value of the project

The mineral resources hosted by the Bushveld Complex represent a globally important source of metals that are critical to the global and South African economies.

Dr Roelofse also pointed out that one of the focus areas of the research to be conducted, relates to the potential for groundwater extraction from rocks of the Bushveld Complex. “This research has the potential to improve access to water for communities living on the rocks of the Bushveld Complex,” he said.

The drilling team will also be able to measure the temperature of the water in the boreholes in order to determine the geothermal energy potential of the Bushveld Complex.

Community involvement

A critical part of the project is an outreach programme aimed at schools and communities surrounding those areas where drilling will take place. According to Dr Roelofse, the programme is aimed at explaining the scientific and economic importance of the unique rocks forming the Bushveld Complex.

“With the project, we also aim to increase the community’s awareness with respect to the responsible and sustainable utilisation of the mineral resources hosted by the rocks on which they live.”

Major beneficiaries

One of the major beneficiaries in the drilling phase of this project will be the South African drilling industry, which will benefit through international collaboration with the ICDP. “We also trust that South African mining companies, particularly those operating within the platinum industry, will benefit from this research through a renewed interest in the mineral potential of the Bushveld Complex,” Prof Roelofse said.

Despite more than a century’s research on the Bushveld Complex, many unanswered questions relating to the formation of the complex and its mineral wealth remains. 

“This project is aimed at clarifying some of these unresolved issues, including improving our understanding of the magma chamber processes operational within the Bushveld Complex, the source of the magmas and their interaction with the rocks that they intruded, the origin of the abundant ore deposits within the complex, and the geophysical properties of the rocks. We also hope to learn more about the hydrogeological characteristics of the Bushveld Complex at depth, its geothermal energy potential, and its microbial ecosystems,” said Prof Roelofse.

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