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29 July 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Dr Martin Clark
Dr Martin Clark, the founder of the MAGIC (Multi-purpose Aerial Geological Image Classification) initiative. MAGIC can obtain geological and structural information that is critical for making informed decisions in exploration and mineral extraction processes.

Mining has historically been described as a boom-and-bust industry, where fluctuations in mineral prices could result in extreme success or bankruptcy. Successful mining companies closely monitor assets/expenditures, risks, and other parameters associated with their business to best ensure their longevity. In most mineral industries, there are a few competitors that dominate the delivery of a mineral resource. As a result, technological development, along with other factors, are critical to ensure that these companies’ business remains viable and protected.

This is according to post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Geology, Dr Martin Clark.

Drone technology: better, faster, safer

He says technological development in mining generally translates to how a company can extract a resource from the ground better, faster, and safer. 

Dr Clark believes the rapid development of drone technology represents a shift in the toolbox that mining companies can employ.

“Drones can collect a great deal of data randomly over vast or small areas within hours, historically accomplished by mapping campaigns which can last months to years. Drones can also collect data in areas which are difficult and dangerous for humans to get to. These include cliff faces or rock walls that are difficult and dangerous to get close to, as well as stretches of land where dense vegetation, inaccessible terrain, and even atmospheric dangers become factors which reduce or modify the scope of exploration work,” he said. 

Expanding application of drones

Dr Clark’s work specifically focuses on expanding the applications for which drones are used. “I assess what and how good the imaging capabilities of drones are, use the imagery to generate 3-D models to drive scientific observation, and yield results which can help companies to extract resources. This initiative is called MAGIC (Multi-purpose Aerial Geological Image Classification),” he said. 



“MAGIC aims to collect geological and structural information that is critical for making informed decisions in exploration and mineral extraction processes,” he added.

Dr Clark is not only the founder of MAGIC; he also drives multiple aspects of the initiative including education, research, and business development. 

In 2013, when he was busy with his doctorate, there was already a spark of interest in using drones to address geological questions. At that time, Dr Clark was working with remotely sensed high-resolution LiDAR imagery to better understand geological structures at the Sudbury Mining Camp in Canada. The interest became a reality in 2018, when he applied this initiative during his post-doctoral fellowship at the UFS.

Now and the future

“At present, there are no direct mining projects underway, but projects are expected to begin in 2020. Drone operation and image-analysis techniques are currently being refined for industry,” he said. 

Besides his work with drones, Dr Clark also work in the fields of structural geology, remote sensing, and geospatial data analysis.  

News Archive

Stress and fear on wild animals examined
2013-06-04

 

Dr Kate Nowak in the Soutpansberg Mountain
Photo: Supplied
04 June 2013

Have you ever wondered how our wild cousins deal with stress? Dr Kate Nowak, visiting postdoctoral researcher at the Zoology and Entomology Department at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, has been assigned the task to find out. She is currently conducting research on the effects that stress and fear has on primate cognition.

The Primate and Predator project has been established over the last two years, following Dr Aliza le Roux’s (also at the Zoology and Entomology Department at Qwaqwa) interest in the effects of fear on primate cognition. Dr le Roux collaborates with Dr Russel Hill of Durham University (UK) at the Lajuma Research Centre in Limpopo and Dr Nowak has subsequently been brought in to conduct the study.

Research on humans and captive animals has indicated that stress can powerfully decrease individuals’ cognitive performance. Very little is known about the influence of stress and fear on the cognition of wild animals, though. Dr Nowak will examine the cognition of wild primates during actual risk posed by predators. This is known as the “landscape of fear” in her research.

“I feel very privileged to be living at Lajuma and on top of a mountain in the Soutpansberg Mountain Range. We are surrounded by nature – many different kinds of habitats including a tall mist-belt forest and a variety of wildlife which we see regularly, including samangos, chacma baboons and vervet monkeys, red duiker, rock hyrax, banded mongooses, crowned eagles, crested guinea fowl and cape batis. And of course those we don't see but find signs of, such as leopard, genet, civet and porcupine. Studying the behaviour of wild animals is a very special, and very humbling, experience, reminding us of the diversity of life of which humans are only a very small part,” said Dr Nowak.

At present, the research team is running Giving up Densities (GUD) experiments. This represents the process during which an animal forsakes a patch dense with food to forage at a different spot. The animal faces a trade-off between meeting energy demands and safety – making itself vulnerable to predators such as leopards and eagles. Dr le Roux said that, “researchers from the US and Europe are embracing cognitive ecology, revealing absolutely stunning facts about what animals can and can’t do. Hence, I don’t see why South Africans cannot do the same.”

Dr Nowak received the Claude Leon Fellowship for her project. Her research as a trustee of the foundation will increase the volume and quality of research output at the UFS and enhance the overall culture of research. Her analysis on the effect that stress and fear have on wild primates’ cognition will considerably inform the emerging field of cognitive ecology.

The field of cognitive ecology is relatively new. The term was coined in the 1990s by Les Real to bring together the fields of cognitive science and behavioural ecology.


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