Blog post -
Jun Cowan — The knight of deposit-scale structural geology
Structural geologist Jun Cowan is a well known voice in the mining industry. His message for the future of mining is clear: Integrate structural geology today and the mining industry will become more efficient and less risky tomorrow.
Please introduce yourself
I am a structural geological consultant who specialises in the interpretation of structural control of ore bodies at the deposit scale from drilling data. I am the conceptual founder of Leapfrog Software and I live in Fremantle, Western Australia.
How come you became a structural geologist?
I was doing a MSc in sedimentology, but decided to specialise at the PhD level in structural geology because I always found structural geology challenging and interesting.
It seems like everyone in the business knows your name, was it always a strategy to become a spokesman and a thought-leader in your field of expertise?
No, not really, but if you solve problems for the industry, I guess you get noticed. I just write about questions that I have in my mind and that seem to interest geologists. Maybe these are questions others also ask themselves? I seemed to have gained a following that way on LinkedIn.
What is your take on why structural geology started to play a smaller role about 50 years ago?
The decline of structural geology as an applied economic geology discipline coincided with the rise of analytical geochemistry from around 1950s. The trend is very clear when these terms are searched on Google. When analytical methods take over, some really fundamental techniques go out the window. I believe structural geology was one of these disciplines that became underappreciated as time went on. The same thing is now happening with the use of AI and machine learning methods. These methods are helpful within context, but without geological context, they can be harmful to the industry because they can waste a lot of money for little benefit. Many mineralisation patterns that seem confusing can actually be solved by knowing a bit of structural geology and surprisingly we don’t actually need a computer algorithm to tell us what the patterns mean. Structural geological ignorance is now the norm, and it’s also unfortunate that the majority of economic geology academics, who everyone in the industry looks to for help, are also ignorant of structural geology. This is a worry.
“The reason why geochemistry became popular was it provided a quick way of knowing the elemental composition of rock, but it lacked the geometrical information that structural geology could provide. Now with Orexplore’s technology we can put the two together which is a wonderful thing.”
What are the main reasons for why structural geology must become a more integral part of the mining industry again?
Mineral deposits come in various shapes and sizes, but the main influence on the geometry is structural geology. Exploration is nothing more than trying to intelligently guess the location of the ore but once found, we need to know the geometry and extensions of the ore body, and for that, you need to know the structural controls. The reason why geochemistry became popular was it provided a quick way of knowing the elemental composition of rock, but it lacked the geometrical information that structural geology could provide. Now with Orexplore’s technology we can put the two together which is a wonderful thing.
From your point of view - what are the biggest threats against the mining industry in the future? Is it trade wars, sustainability regulations or that the mining industry itself continuous to be conservative?
I think it’s the lack of professionals with the right experience. Tertiary education enrolments for mining engineering and geology are both down and have been for many years. We cannot find and mine deposits without the professionals. In addition, the mining industry has been unfairly labelled as a polluting industry, which is a very myopic view of the industry because virtually everything that we do now depends on having accessed to mineral and petroleum products.
You obviously embrace new technologies, how can that mindset become more of a standard for the mining industry at large?
I could write a whole blog post on this subject. In fact, I’m preparing several articles about this. Obviously, we need to all ‘think outside of the box’, but what is this ‘box’ in the first place? The box that everyone is trapped in starts early in life and we grow into it slowly, so we don’t notice it, to the point where we don’t even know that we’re in this confined box. This box is formed from rote learning, spoon feeding, and the compliance training mentality of the education system. Young people aren’t given permission to question the standard methods of doing science and even basic living, and that’s the problem. Unless we look beyond this and start questioning the norm, it will be always difficult to invent anything new, but like I said, this is a long story!
If you look into the crystal ball, what kind of mining industry do you see?
I can’t speak outside my area of expertise, but if structural geology can be integrated back into exploration and mining activities that would make a significant difference to exploration and mining. The mining industry would be vastly more efficient, smart and less risky, just by integrating structural knowledge into their daily activities.
Jun’s 3 keys that structural geology brings to the table
1. Crucial information about tectonic deformation
Structural geology is about the study of the geometries of the rocks that result from tectonic deformation caused by collision of continents.
2. Deeper understanding how ore deposits are formed
Many ore deposits are formed from the precipitation of metals from metal-laden fluids that flowed through the deformed rocks.
3. Knowledge how permeability affects rock
Fluid flow requires permeability and this permeability often results during tectonic deformation. Knowledge of structural geology is therefore an essential skill for mineral exploration and mining.
Name: Jun Cowan
Lives: Fremantle, Western Australia
Title: Director, and structural geologist
Career in summary: M. Sc. in Sedimentary Geology and Ph.D. in Structural Geology, University of Toronto. Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at School of Geosciences, Monash University. General Manager at Zaparo Ltd and Director and Principal Structural Geologist at Orefind Pty Ltd. Co-founder of Leapfrog software. Interpreted and modelled more than 600 deposits of all types of commodities world-wide since Leapfrog’s research began in 2001. More than 7 500 followers in Linkedin. https://www.linkedin.com/in/juncowan/