High‐resolution unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic surveys for mineral exploration targets
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Recent advancements in geophysical exploration have been realized through reliably integrating unmanned aerial vehicle platforms with lightweight, high‐resolution magnetometer payloads. Unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic surveys can provide a contemporary data product between the two end‐members of coverage and resolution attained using manned airborne and terrestrial magnetic surveys. This new data product is achievable because unmanned aerial vehicle platforms can safely traverse with magnetometer payloads at flight elevations closer to ground targets than manned airborne surveys, while also delivering an increased coverage rate compared to walking conventional terrestrial surveys. This is a promising new development for geophysical and mineral exploration applications, especially in variable terrains. A three‐dimensional unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic survey was conducted within the Shebandowan Greenstone Belt, northwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, in July 2017. A series of two‐dimensional grids (∼500 m × 700 m) were flown at approximate elevations of 35, 45 and 70 m above ground level using a Dà‐Jiāng Innovations multi‐rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (S900) and a GEM Systems, Inc., Potassium Vapour Magnetometer (GSMP‐35U). In total, over 48 line‐km of unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic data were flown with a line spacing of 25 m. The collected aeromagnetic data were compared to a regional heliborne aeromagnetic survey flown at an elevation of approximately 85 m above the terrain, with a line spacing of 100 m, as well as a follow‐up terrestrial magnetic survey. The first vertical derivative of the gathered unmanned aerial vehicle total magnetic field data was calculated both directly between each of the different flight elevations, and indirectly by calculating the values predicted using upward continuation. This case study demonstrates that low flight elevation unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic surveys can reliably collect industry standard total magnetic field measurements at an increased resolution when compared to manned airborne magnetic surveys. The enhanced interpretation potential provided by this approach also aided in delineating structural controls and hydrothermal fluid migration pathways (a pair of adjacent shear zones) related to gold mineralization on site. These structural features were not clearly resolved in the regional manned airborne magnetic data alone, further demonstrating the utility of applying high‐resolution unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic surveys to mineral exploration applications. The conclusions and interpretations drawn from the unmanned aerial vehicle aeromagnetic data, coupled with historical data, were applied to make a new gold mineralization discovery on the site, assayed at 15.7 g/t.