New World Gravity Map pinpoints mineral deposits

A scientist from Curtain University in Western Australia is part of an international research team responsible for a new World Gravity Map (WGM) that will allow geophysicists to detect and isolate large mineral deposits more accurately than methods currently employed.

Dr Michael Kuhn, of the Department of Spatial Sciences, said the WGM will allow scientists and educators to understand the structure of the Earth in far greater detail than ever before, essentially being able to see the Earth ‘from the inside’.

“The WGM will have practical applications in many important areas,” Dr Kuhn said. “In geophysics, for example, large resource deposits can be identified more accurately, with increased gravity showing possible high-density ore bodies. It will also greatly benefit the field of spatial sciences, where instrumentation needs to be very accurately oriented with respect to the Earth’s gravity.”

The project is a major international collaboration that, for the first time, maps the entire Earth’s gravity field in ultra-high resolution at spatial scales of less than two kilometres.

“By being global and ultra-high resolution, the map enables a focus on global and regional as well as very localised and targeted areas.” Dr Kuhn said.

The global map was created from an existing high-resolution Earth gravity model enhanced by the gravitational signal from ultra-high-resolution elevation models.

“My research for the past 15 years has developed computational techniques and tools for forward gravity modelling,” Dr Kuhn said. “I have previously applied these techniques successfully to reveal fine structures of the gravity field over Australia.

“Now, with the aid of the supercomputing facilities operated by Western Australian supercomputing leader iVEC, I was able to transfer this work to a global scale for the WGM. At iVEC, I completed the intensive calculations for more than 230 million points in under four weeks by dividing the overall task into 672 separate computational jobs. Doing this huge task on a standard desktop computer would have taken almost six months to complete.”

The WGM project was led by the Bureau Gravimetrique International and involved significant contributions from institutions around the world, including United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Dr Kuhn’s contribution to the WGM was funded by the Australian Research Council and Curtin through a Curtin Research and Teaching Fellowship.

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