Sibanye Stillwater donates seismic data to the only institution in southern Africa with a geophysics programme.

The Wits Seismic Research Centre has received a large donation worth R50 million in the form of information data from the Sibanye Stillwater mining company.

Seismic data is used by geophysicists to scan a mining area from surface level to provide a 2D/3D image of sub-surface levels before the miners start drilling down through the surface.

Sibanye Stillwater is one of the mining companies that kept such data confidential for years, until its donation in July.

The data has to be analysed to identify the ore body and structures around it that may disrupt the minerals, and new technology must be used to improve the quality of the data.

Senior researcher and director of the Seismic Research Centre, Professor Musa Manzi, highlighted how pleased he is about the donation.

Manzi told Wits Vuvuzela, “The advantage is that now the students have the actual data to test their methods, and the mining companies have the latest information from the old data that they were not using because they could not analyse it – so both parties are dependent on each other.”

The seismic data works like an X-ray of a mining area. It allows the miners to see exactly where the ore body is sitting and what areas may cause risks for miners.

PhD student at the research centre Michael Westgate specialises in seismic reflection. He elaborated on how this works.

“In a similar fashion to how a radiologist uses X-rays to image our bones, we can image the rock units beneath the surface that host these minerals without having to dig to them, in an accurate and cost-effective manner.”

PhD in mining seismology and rock physics Siyanda Mngadi explains that as miners they use seismic waves to detect rocks that may contain minerals. This helps discover new ore bodies and mines or even establish the extent of existing mines.

Mngadi told Wits Vuvuzela, “The Seismic Research Centre uses recent technologies to reprocess and reinterpret the data to mine information that can help mines identify new areas of potential economic value.”

“I feel excited and grateful not only for the research opportunity this donation presents but also the collaboration between Sibanye and Wits. The sheer magnitude and calibre of the data is very exciting. We truly have been given a gold mine,” said Westgate.

These discoveries would help the South African economy because the same data can help find oil and gas reservoirs that are important for electricity supply in South Africa.

“It is only in South Africa that mining takes place below 3,5km. We are the leaders in the world in terms of mineral exploration. Our miners are exposed to risk, rock fall, rock burst and seismicity,” Manzi added.

The data and research from Wits students will help to reduce risk underground and minimize the expense of drilling holes in areas without minerals.


FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Musa Manzi, the head of the Wits Seismic Research Centre. Photo: Jabulile Mbatha