School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Nigel Hicks and Ms Lynette Kirkpatrick.

Geology Alumnus and PhD Candidate Present Keynote Addresses at SAGA Conference

UKZN Geology alumnus, Dr Nigel Hicks, and current PhD candidate, Ms Lynette Kirkpatrick, presented keynote addresses at the 16th biennial South African Geophysical Association Conference held in Durban with Hicks receiving the prize for best keynote presentation.

Under the theme: Current Informing the Future, the event featured experts sharing novel methods and applications related to the field of geophysics. A wide range of delegates from mining professionals to university and industry academics attended.

Hicks, a sedimentologist and Chief Scientist at the Council for Geoscience’s (CGS) KwaZulu-Natal Regional Office, obtained his PhD from UKZN last year (2018) and is seconded to the University as a visiting researcher. He presented on interpretations of new aeromagnetic data acquired by the CGS across the Maputaland coastal plain, and its impacts on the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) Pilot Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Storage Project (PCSP).

‘Carbon capture and storage (CCS) have been identified internationally as a critical technology in a portfolio of technologies needed to mitigate anthropogenic CO2 emissions and limit the impacts of climate change,’ said Hicks. ‘As an emerging country, South Africa remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels, resulting in significant anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which CCS technology could help reduce.’

Hicks explained SANEDI’s current implementation of the PCSP, a research initiative that includes the transport, geological storage and monitoring of between 10 000 and 50 000 tons of CO2. A potential site for the project has been identified within the onshore Mesozoic sedimentary Zululand Basin in northeastern KwaZulu-Natal where the CGS as a key collaborator is aiding basin characterisation using high resolution aeromagnetic and gravity data over the study area. The work of Hicks and his team has provided new evidence of the basement architecture of the Zululand Basin.

Kirkpatrick described how geological framework dictates the diamond placer grade of southern Namibia and presented highlights of her PhD work, particularly its impact on the offshore placer exploration strategy and life of mine extension at Namdeb Diamond Corporation’s mining operation in southern Namibia.

Kirkpatrick is a Senior Geophysicist at Namdeb Diamond Corporation in Namibia, where diamonds are one of the biggest contributors to the economy and Namdeb, with its 95% gem quality diamond production, occupies a unique and critical position in the global diamond market. However, with onshore raised beaches being 99% mined out after 90 years of extraction, Namdeb is now a marginal operation on one of the world’s highest energy coastlines where Kirkpatrick said exploration in the nearshore zone presents a costly and techno-economically challenging hurdle.

Kirkpatrick has integrated airborne electromagnetic and magnetic geophysical datasets with marine seismic data, producing a structural framework for the coastline that influences the modern shoreline morphology and sediment transport regime, and the offshore stratigraphy and mineralisation. Through further integration of the geophysical interpretation with historical mining information, she showed that the geological framework controls the onshore raised beach emplacement. This critical observation has allowed data-supported principles established onshore to be applied to the nearshore extension of the diamond deposit where there is no sample data yet, leading to the development of a robust exploration strategy that mitigates the risk inherent in a variable placer environment.

‘We’re so proud of them both, and think their presentations were a really good indicator of our Discipline and its quality,’ said Professor Andrew Green of the Discipline of Geology.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied