Written by W.C. Olivier
Master Drilling, the local and international technology driven drilling company, in August 2017, set up to drill a historical hole on a farm in Griqualand West in the Northern Cape. Renowned Professor, Wladyslaw Altermann, Head of the Department of Geology at the University of Pretoria and the Kumba-Exxaro Chair, sites the borehole close to a dry river bed containing a unique example of preserved pahoehoe lava flow structures within the Ongeluk Formation of lavas in the western portion of the Transvaal Supergroup.
Prof Wlady, as affectionately referred to by his peers, approached Master Drilling in early 2017 about drilling a core hole through the Ongeluk lavas, Magkanyene (glacial rocks) and the Koegas Formation. According to Prof Wlady, information on the contact between these formations in the area was nearly non-existing and the drilling would amongst other things, better the understanding of the stratigraphic correlation of these Transvaal Supergroup rocks to other lithologies in central South Africa as well as in other areas such as Thabazimbi and the eastern Bushveld. Furthermore, the age (2.5– 2.2 billion years) and the depositional environments of the rocks in the area are also poorly understood and the fresh samples will allow geologist an opportunity to better understand the geological history of these formations. This understanding also has an economic implication, the stratigraphic correlation will add much needed knowledge on the mineral bearing potential of these formations.
The Makganyene glacial deposits are the remnants of one of the most profound climate change events in the Earth’s history, which occurred approximately 2.4 billion years ago, leading perhaps to the total glaciation of the Earth and its oceans. The fresh core samples produced by this project will help scientists to better understand this climate change event which was followed by large lava flows, a significant rise in oxygen levels in the atmosphere and a dramatic decline in CO2 levels. This information could prove invaluable to scientist studying climate change models today. According to Prof Wlady, the fresh core samples will provide greater accuracy of information than weathered surface samples; the only information scientist could use prior to this project.
According to Prof Wlady this project was a first of its kind between the mining industry and a university in South Africa. Although there have been few scientific drilling programs of similar nature in South Africa, such as drilling through the Karoo rocks by the CIMERA centre of excellence and University of Johannesburg, these were all dependent on international funding. This was the first multi-million Rand scientific drilling project driven, planned, funded and executed utilising exclusively local expertise through the collaboration of a South African university and drilling company (Master Drilling), with assistance from the Kumba Iron Ore mine at Kolomela. The project is an unique example of collaboration of purely South African funding and expertise from industry and academia.
The project will create opportunities for young scientists to complete PhD, MSc and BSc degrees and the implications of the increased international publications, spread of knowledge and expertise are tremendous. The funding of the project by Master Drilling is a good example of industry involvement in basic and applied science.
For now, the core, containing yet to be discovered secrets of the Earth’s history is safely stored and be analysed by Prof Wlady, his team and the geological community around the world.