Giving the legacy seismic data the attention they deserve
Key minerals may soon be in short supply as shallow mineral deposits are mined-out; therefore exploration for economically feasible deep-seated deposits to sustain a long-term global growth is a great challenge. New deposits are likely to be found using reflection seismic surveys in combination with drilling, field geological mapping and other geophysical methods. Seismic methods have already have contributed significantly to the discovery of some of the world’s major mineral deposits (Milkereit et al., 1996; Pretorius et al., 2000; Trickett et al., 2004; Malehmir and Bellefleur, 2009; Malehmir et al., 2012). However, use of the method is not widespread because it is deemed to be expensive. Although improvements in computing capabilities have led to cost reductions, the costs are still beyond exploration budgets of many companies. Thus, mining companies have had little financial ability to acquire new reflection seismic data, and very little governmental support has been available to acquire research seismic surveys for mineral exploration. Over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of seismic solutions that employ various combinations of equip-ment, acquisition, and processing techniques, which can be applied in hard rock situations to improve the imaging resolution (Denis et al., 2013). The best acquisition solutions to date have come from the deployment of high-density receiver and source arrays which the extension of the seismic bandwidth to six octaves using broadband sources (Duval, 2012). Another area of seismic research has focused on surface seismic acquisition using three-component (3C) microelectro-mechanical (MEMS-based) seismic landstreamers (Brodic et al., 2015), coupled with wireless seismic recorders, and surface-tunnel-seismic surveys (Brodic et al., 2017). However, numerous difficulties have been encountered, even with these innovative acquisition seismic approaches. Seismic surveys acquired in the mining regions suffer from noise produced by the drilling, blasting and transport of rock and the crushing of ore. Furthermore, in some mining regions the acquisition of new data is not permitted due to new environmental regulations. In such a fast evolving seismic technological era, legacy reflection seismic data are often regarded by mining companies and geoscientists as inferior compared with the newly acquired data. This paper demonstrates that if the legacy data are properly retrieved, reprocessed, and interpreted using today’s standard techniques, they can be of significant value, particularly in the mining regions where no other data are available or the acqui-sition of new data is difficult and expensive. The development of multitudes of processing algorithms and seismic attributes, in particular, make it worthwhile to reprocess and interpret legacy data to enhance the detection of steeply dipping structures and geological features below the conventional seismic resolution limits (i.e., a quarter of the dominant wavelength), which was not possible with the tools that were available when the data were originally acquired and processed. The new information obtained from the legacy data may benefit future mine planning operations by discovering new ore deposits, providing a better estimation of the resources and information that will help to site and sink future shafts. Thus, any future mineral exploration project could also take the geological information obtained from the reprocessed and interpreted legacy seismic data into account when planning new advanced seismic surveys (Manzi et al., 2018). The latest seismic algorithms are particularly interesting to South Africa’s deep mining industry because South Africa has the world’s largest hard rock seismic database, which could benefit from new processing techniques and attributes analyses. These techniques could be applied to legacy seismic data to identify areas of interest, improve structural resolution and to locate deeper ore deposits. Seismic attributes, in particular, could be used to identify any subtle geological structures crosscutting these deposits ahead of the mining face that could affect mine planning and safety.