School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

PhD Research Secures Future of Namibian Mining Town

The PhD work of geologist Dr Lynette Kirkpatrick has secured the future of the land operations of Namibia De Beers diamond company Namdeb… and with it the future of the small mining town of Oranjemund.

Kirkpatrick’s optimistic outlook for Namdeb – the primary employer in Oranjemund – has had a positive impact on the long-term feasibility of the small mining town.

Kirkpatrick, who matriculated at Fish Hoek High in Cape Town, spent her school holidays on the west coast of South Africa and Namibia which later influenced her choice of degree and ultimately, her honours project, which focused on seismic data analysis from the coast of southern Namibia.

After graduating with an Honours degree in Geology from the University of Cape Town, Kirkpatrick joined De Beers Marine Pty Ltd working in the marine survey, geophysical research and development department which provided the ideal mix of technical research and development work and practical geophysical experience, well suited to her career aspirations.

She worked for the De Beers Group in the marine exploration and mining industry for the next 14 years.

In 2017 Kirkpatrick started a PhD at UKZN. ‘I chose UKZN because of the strength of the Marine Geology programme and, in particular, the expertise of my supervisor, Prof Andrew Green,’ she said.

Kirkpatrick’s research has had a positive impact in Oranjemund – and Namibia – because her doctoral work produced data that underpins an exploration strategy, supporting the extension of the life of the mine – the primary employer in the town.

Namdeb Diamond Corporation, a joint venture between the De Beers Group and the Namibian government, mines an onshore diamond placer deposit at Oranjemund.

Kirkpatrick’s doctoral research involved integrating various new geophysical datasets with historical mining data to develop a geological model for the nearshore environment and ultimately produced an exploration strategy for the offshore extension of the mine.

Kirkpatrick has extensive marine diamond exploration experience which has given her unique skills and insights into the geology, geophysics and economics of the placer mining industry. ‘I have had the privilege to work with brand new exploration datasets and develop geological models from first principles,’ she said. ‘Putting this work into a PhD and thus a more global context was a natural extension of my work and interests.’

Her supervisor, Dr Andrew Green was full of praise: ‘Lynette worked full time, did her PhD thesis in three years – from an upgrade from an MSc, had a baby while caring for her two other little ones, published all her work with great distinction in the top journals of our field, and pretty much saved the mining town of Oranjemund from economic collapse because her work single-handedly helped extend the mine’s life by another 10 years. She is a remarkable person, truly one of the most intelligent and dedicated I have met.’

Kirkpatrick plans to continue to work for the Namdeb Diamond Corporation Pty Ltd as Senior Geophysicist in Offshore Resource Development.

She described studying towards a PhD as stretching, stimulating and an immensely rewarding experience.

The mother-of-three enjoys outdoors activities including trail running, hiking and camping.

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied