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Using airborne electromagnetics to solve a structurally complex geological puzzle in the Hamersley Province, Western Australia


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Author R Murray, R Neroni, D Kepert and J Bresnahan


Stratigraphy of the Hamersley Province in Western Australia, featuring alternating units of banded iron formations and shales with contrasting electrical properties in a mostly gently undulating shallow-dipping layered geometry, is particularly favourable to airborne time-domain electromagnetic mapping techniques. Manipulated vertical cross-sections of modelled conductivity obtained from laterally constrained one-dimensional inversion of SkyTEM304 data enable the exploration geologist to interpret weathering profiles, shallow-dipping stratigraphy and steep structures, all of which are crucial aspects of bedded iron ore deposits genesis models.

The Cobra Project is located 14 km east of the NNW-trending Menindee Fault Zone, which defines the western margin of the Hamersley Province, Western Australia. The region comprises an extensive plateau of Brockman Iron Formation cut by a series of horst and grabens with a regional dextral strike-slip component. The 150° striking horst and grabens and associated 060° striking conjugate faults have approximate frequencies of 400 and 2000 m, respectively, and control the bulk of the iron mineralisation. Syn to late 150° trending dykes in part intrude the faults.

In the Cobra region, elucidating the structurally dislocated stratigraphy without closely spaced drilling is very challenging. Geological mapping is hindered by the paucity of mappable stratigraphic markers within the banded iron formations and kinematic indicators. Airborne magnetic and remote sensing data sets highlight the dense lineament network, but provide limited assistance in quantifying relatively small apparent displacements, or distinguishing faults from dykes with reasonable confidence.

Interpretation of modelled conductivity cross-sections generated from laterally constrained one-dimensional inversion of airborne electromagnetic method (AEM) data offers invaluable insight where the quality of mapping or drilling is wanting. Subsequent targeted field checking and infill drilling validated the geological model interpreted from the integration of these data sets.

The AEM technique alone cannot decipher the complex geological environments often present in the Hamersley Province but can facilitate effective iron ore exploration by focusing precious field time and assisting structural and stratigraphic interpretations in areas with sporadic and shallow geological data.


Murray, R, Neroni, R, Kepert, D and Bresnahan, J, 2017. Using airborne electromagnetics to solve a structurally complex geological puzzle in the Hamersley Province, Western Australia, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 269–276 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).