This article is about the benefit of preparing (cutting) more geological cross-sections and the value they bring.
Geological sections are one of the easiest ways to explain the character of an orebody. They have an inherent simplicity yet provide more information than any other mining related graphic.
Some sections can be simple cartoon-like images while others can be technically complicated, presenting detailed geological data.
Cartoon-stylized sections are typically used to describe the general nature of the orebody. The detailed sections can present technical data such as drill hole traces, color coded assays intervals, ore block grades, ore zone interpretations, mineral classifications, etc.
Sections provide a level of clarity to everyone, including to those new to the mining industry as well as those with decades of experience.
This article briefly describes what story I (as an engineer) am looking for in sections. Geologists may have a different view on what they conclude when reviewing geological sections.
I will describe the three types of geological sections that one can cut and what each may be describing. The three types are: (1) longitudinal (long) sections; (2) cross-sections; (3) bench (level) plans. Each plays a different role in helping to understand the orebody and mining environment.
There is also another way to share simple geological images via3D PDF files. I will provide an example later.
Longitudinal (Long) Sections
Long sections are aligned along the long axis of the deposit. They can be vertically oriented, although sometimes they may be tilted to follow the dip angle of an ore zone.
Long sections are typically shown for narrow structure style deposits (e.g. gold veins) and are typically less relevant for bulk deposits (e.g. porphyry).
The information garnered from long sections includes:
The lateral extent of the mineralized structure, which can be in hundred of metres or even kilometers. This provides a sense for how large the entire system is. Sometimes these sections may show geophysics, drilling to defend the basis for the regional interpretation.
Long sections will often highlight the drill hole pierce points to illustrate how well the mineralized zone is drilled off. Is the ore zone defined with a good drill density or are there only widely spaced holes? As well, long sections can show how deep ore zone has been defined by drilling. On some projects, a few widely spaced deep holes, although insufficient for resource estimation purposes, may confirm that the ore zone extends to great depth. This bodes well for potential development in that a long life deposit may exist.
Sometimes the long section drill intercept pierce points can be contoured on grade, thickness, or grade-thickness. This information provides a sense for the uniformity (or variability) of the ore zone. It also shows the elevations of the higher grade zones, if the deposit is more likely an open pit mine, an underground mine, or a combination of both.
Cross-sections are generally the most popular geological sections seen in presentations. These are vertical slices aligned perpendicular to the strike of the orebody. They can show the ore zone interpretation, drill holes traces, assays, rock types, and/or color-coded resource block grades.
As an engineer, my greatest interest is in seeing the resource blocks, color coded by grade. Sometimes open pit shells may be included on the section to define the potential mining volume. The engineering information garnered from block model cross-sections includes:
Where are the higher-grade areas located; at depth or near surface?
If a pit shell profile is included, what will the relative strip ratio look like? Are the ore zones relatively narrow compared to the size of the pit?
How will the topography impact on the pit shape? In mountainous terrain, will a push-back on pit wall result in the need to climb up a hillside and create a very high pit slope? This can result in high stripping ratios or difficult mining conditions.
Does the ore zone extend deeper and if one wants to push the pit a bit deeper, is there a high incremental strip ratio to do this? Does one need to strip a lot of waste to gain a bit more ore?
Are the widths of the mineable ore zones narrow or wide, or are there multiple ore zones separated by internal waste zones? This may indicate if lower-cost bulk mining is possible, or if higher cost selective mining is required to minimize waste dilution.
How difficult will it be to maintain grade control? For example, narrow veins being mined using a 10 metre bench height and 7 metre blast pattern will have difficulty in defining the ore /waste contacts.
Cross-sections that show the ore blocks color coded by classification (Measured, Indicated, Inferred), illustrate where the less reliable (Inferred) resources are located and how much relative tonnage may be in the more certain Measured and Indicated categories.
When looking at cross-sections, it is always important to look at multiple cross-sections across the orebody. Too often in reports one may be presented with the widest and juiciest ore zone, as if that was typical for the entire orebody. It likely is not typical.
Stepping away from that one section to look at others is important. Possibly the character of the ore zones changes and hence its important to cut multiple sections along the orebody.
Bench (Level) Plans
Bench plans (or level plans) are horizontal slices across the ore body at various elevations. In these sections one is looking down on the orebody from above.
Level plans are typically less common to see in presentations, although they are very useful. The level plans may show geological detail, rock types, ore zone interpretations, ore block grades, and underground workings.
The bench plan represents what the open pit mining crews would see as they are working along a bench in the pit. The information garnered from bench plans that include the block model grades includes:
Where are the higher-grade areas found on a level? Are these higher grade areas continuous or do they consist of higher grade pockets scattered amongst lower grade blocks?
Do the ore zones swell or pinch out on a bench? A vertical cross-section may give a false sense the ore zones are uniform. The bench plan gives an indication on how complicated mining, grade control, and dilution control might be for operators.
Do the ore zones on a bench level extend out beyond the pit walls and is there potential to expand the pit to capture that ore?
On a given bench what will the strip ratio be? Are the ore zones small compared to the total area of the bench?
As recommended with cross-sections, when looking at bench plans, one should try to look at multiple elevations. The mineability of the ore zones may change as one moves vertically upwards or downwards through a deposit.
Never mind cross-sections – give me 3D
While geological sections are great, another way to present the orebody is with 3D PDF files to allow users to view the deposit in three-dimensions. Web platforms like VRIFY are great, but I have been told they sometimes can be slow to use.
3D PDF files can be created by some of the geological software packages. They can export specific data of interest; for example topography, ore zone wireframes, underground workings, and block model information. These 3D files allows anyone to rotate an image, zoom in as needed and turn layers off and on.
You can also create your own simplistic cross-sections through the pdf menus (see image).
A simple example of such a 3D PDF file can be downloaded at this link (3D DPF File Example). It only includes two pit designs and some ore blocks to keep it simple.
The nice thing about these PDF files is that one doesn’t need a standalone viewer program (e.g. Leapfrog viewer) to view them. They are also not huge in size. As far as I know 3D PDF files only work with Adobe Reader, which most everyone already has. It would be good if companies made such 3D PDF files downloadable along with their corporate PowerPoint presentations.