Big Data helps scientists locate rare minerals

While there is an element in luck in the way geologists locate these deposits, the new method is more structured and thorough.

As per the results of a study, scientists are scouring through huge tracts of data, looking for clues for the deposits of minerals, including, oil, gas, copper and gold.

The techniques adopted by them are similar to the ones used by tech companies such as Amazon and Netflix.

The method has already led to the discovery of 10 carbon-bearing minerals and could be applied more widely for exploration purposes, wrote scientists in the journal, American Mineralogist.

“Big data points to new minerals, new deposits,” reads the entry in the journal.

The technique used by them goes beyond traditional geology which amasses data on how and where minerals have formed. The data has been used to help find other deposits.

“Minerals occur on Earth in clusters,” said Robert Hazen, executive director of the Deep Carbon Observatory at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington and an author of the study.

“When you see minerals together it’s very like the way that humans interact in social networks such as Facebook,” he said.

He compared the technique to the one used by Amazon, which recommends books based on a client’s previous orders. Even media streaming company Netflix, uses it to propose movies to consumers based on their past viewing habits.

“They are using vast amounts of data and make correlations that you could never make,” said Hazen.

As per lead author of the study, Shaunna Morrison, luck often plays a big role for geologists searching for new deposits.

“We are looking at it in a much more systematic way,” she said.

Among the ten rare carbon-bearing minerals discovered by the project were parisaite-(La) and abellaite. Their existence was predicted before even they were discovered. Their economic applications are still to be found.


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