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Geographic Information Systems and Mineral Reserves in Southern Africa

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Southern Africa is endowed with such natural resources such as metallic minerals, precious stones, gases and coal. They are mostly located in remote parts of the region in areas characterized by poverty and illiteracy. While it is fair for poverty-stricken people staying in the region to benefit from mineral resources explored there, illegal miners and smugglers are the only parties who gain profits from exploration (Ross 2008). When natural resources are exploited reasonably and fairly, they can act as an efficient economic growth catalyst. Under such circumstances, the economy can realize an improvement, growth, and a transformation. In line with this, the information systems approach can be used to change the way in which natural resources are used to achieve a transition from a low-value economy to a high-value one that utilizes its resources and labor effectively. Using computerized information systems, particularly a geographic information system (GIS), can help in surveying, estimating and tracking mineral reserves in the region, minimizing illegal mining. Consequently, the current study highlights the importance of the use of GIS in assessing and tracking copper reserves and mining in Zambia, with a particular emphasis on Kabompo (Kumar & Singh 2007).

The Kabompo region is chosen randomly for the proposed research. In addition, it is located on the country’s border with DRC, where extensive illegal mining and smuggling take place, qualifying it as an initial study area.

Background of the Study

On the territory of southern African nations, gold, emeralds, copper, platinum, tanzanite, coltan and sapphires are illegally mined and traded on, forming a shadow economy in these regions (Rogerson 2006; Nel & Rogerson 2005). Given the secret nature of the business, the annual revenue that the governments of the southern African countries lose from illicit mining is unclear. However, such organizations as Business Against Crime in South Africa (BACSA) approximated the annual cost of illegal trading in the region at $ 525 million (Irmiya & Jatau 2010). Between 2000 and 2004, law enforcement agencies in South Africa alone returned stolen golds worth about $10 million and stolen platinum amounting to $11.6 (Coetzee & Horn 2006).

According to Irmiya and Jatau (2010), smuggling gold, platinum and silver from the southern African countries to the United Kingdom is estimated at about $33.3 million per year. In 2010, the research conducted by the ISS in Zambia revealed that the mining sector in the country was adversely affected by corrupt business practices, theft of minerals, smuggling and tax evasion (Huebschle 2010). A number of SADC countries have recently suffered from predatory activities in their mining industries, such as in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where precious metals are stolen and smuggled out of the country in large amounts.

Zambia has a number of mineral resources, with copper being the major one explored in the country. Geologically, the region is characterized by ancient mobile belts. The sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks are natural foundations of the Zambian economy. The country has a considerable potential, requiring effective models and modern computer science methods for documentation and exploration.

The issues surrounding effective exploitation of minerals in Zambia and neighboring southern African states a partly a result of shortages in reliable and accurate data on the locations of mines, quantity of minerals mined and spatial characteristics of mineral deposits (Huebschle 2010). All these are important data that should be recorded at mineral exploration stages to help in the feasibility and exploration of natural resources. In addition, such information can assist industry regulators in tracking mineral production and distribution within their countries. However, geophysical, geochemical, geographical, geotechnical and geological investigations usually generate complex and large volumes of data for analysis, which require computerization. For this reason, this study emphasizes the significance of the use of GIS to solve complicated geological problems related to mineral exploitation and a powerful 3-D analysis.

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Objectives of the Study

The main aim of the proposed research is to introduce a GIS for exploration and tracking copper resources in areas characterized by illegal mining activities, where such systems have not been introduced by the government. The project will be aligned with the following specific research objectives:

  1. To explore the methods of minimizing illegal mineral mining and smuggling through accurate data capture and recording using GIS.
  2. To initiate specific ways of documenting information on mining sites in order to alert the government of illegal mining cases.

Geographic Information Systems

GIS integrates the software and hardware for data capturing, managing and analyzing different forms of geographically referenced information (Escobar, Hunter, Bishop & Zerger 2010). GIS has three main components, namely, the map, database and model views, all of which are used at varying levels of applications. For underground mining, GIS is useful in generating and analyzing data on mineral reserves, land ownership, mine safety, exploration management and production (Kumar & Singh 2007). With the GIS, the mining authorities can conduct a digital update of the existing geological map. The latter can help in generating accurate and up-to-date metadata on the mining infrastructure at both the formative and progressive stages. This paper proposes the use of GISs, particularly a geophysical delineation, for the estimation of mining reserves.

Methodology Used for a Geophysical Survey and Mineral Estimation in Kobompo

The research team will integrate electrical resistivity data for delineating copper deposits in the Kobompo region in Zambia. The ABEM Terrameter SAS 300c can be used for gathering Wenner array points on the rock veins along geological profiles, probably about 100 meters apart (Escobar et al. 2010). After this process, the GIS software will be used to convert data into iso-resistivity maps at estimated depths of between 5m and 40m, with 5m intervals between the depths near the surface to the last position underground. The data obtained from the system will be organized in the format of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, saved as a database file, and finally used as an input into the GIS software. Contour map used for assessing tourmaline deposits in Nigeria. Similar results are expected for the proposed project (Wade & Hulland 2004).

The iso-resistivity contours will be produced through grouping data within a 100m interval range. The contour lines can be differentiated with the help of different colors, and GPS coordinates will be used to fix grid systems on the intended maps.

For the estimation of copper reserves using the GIS software, the coordinates of boreholes should first be obtained using GPS at varying drilled points. Exploration data can then be digitalized using the GIS software for producing the top surface and the beneath surface of the entire area under study. Contour maps can be analyzed for the calculation of mineral reserves.

Budgeting and Recommendations

Budgeting will be largely based on the next categories:

  • Cost of the PC-based GIS hardware and software - $ 30,000;
  • Cost of the establishment of a database (about 80 percent of the total cost), amounting to $ 60,000;
  • Cost of maintenance and operations (personnel, training, electricity and materials) - $50,000;
  • Miscellaneous - $10,000;
  • Approximate total cost of establishment - $ 150,000.

Considering the costs above, the National Research Foundation (NRF) should fund this project since its outcomes will not only be beneficial to Zambia, but to all mining regions in South Africa.

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