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The thrill of the hunt; ‘You should always be exploring,’ says Northern geoscientist

— By Jill Westerman
Gary Vivian at a geophysics campsite. “Our job is to find more resources,” he says. Gary Vivian/Aurora Geosciences

— By Jill Westerman

Northern News Services

‘Never stop exploring’ could be Gary Vivian’s mantra.

But instead of the jagged terrain of a mountain range or a verdant tropical jungle, it is what lies beneath the Arctic tundra that holds a fascination for the Northern geoscientist.

Vivian, the chairman of Aurora Geosciences in Yellowknife, searches for diamonds — before the digging even begins.

“We use a tool box of geophysical airborne data, ground geophysical data, MAG and electrical surveys,” he said of the complex exploration process that determines whether swaths of land have the potential to yield highly sought-after minerals that lie beneath the earth’s surface.

“Our job is to find more resources,” Vivian said of the continual search and discovery process.

Using advanced exploration techniques, Vivian said he and his team have provided geological and geophysical services to all three of the operational diamond mines in the Northwest Territories.

A modest drill program identifying kimberlite indicator minerals. “That, to me, is the fun part — the hunt,” says Gary Vivian, chairman of Aurora Geosciences. Photo courtesy of Gary Vivian/Aurora Geosciences
A modest drill program identifying kimberlite indicator minerals. “That, to me, is the fun part — the hunt,” says Gary Vivian, chairman of Aurora Geosciences. Photo courtesy of Gary Vivian/Aurora Geosciences

What lies beneath

After the initial surveys are conducted on a potential area of land, depending on the data accumulated, a camp is then set up for Vivian’s exploration team to prospect, sample and conduct further ground geophysics.

The goal is to find an area that has the best possibility of hosting the underground kimberlite that contains the diamonds.

Kimberlite deposits can be vast and far reaching. Ekati and Diavik mines, for example, have huge land packages that were originally staked, Vivian said.

“If you are an explorer for diamonds, you don’t acquire small pieces of land — you’ve got to acquire large pieces of land because the dispersions from the kimberlite creates indicator till trains that can be 20 to 30 kilometers in length or even longer,” he said. “Some people say some of the indicator minerals from the NWT have come from as far away as Saskatchewan. There are big till train deposits from kimberlite that can go many tens or hundreds of kilometers.”

But once mining begins, eventually the end cycle of the diamond mine approaches, and therefore, Vivian says exploration should never stop to ensure continuation of the mining process. 0

The search is on

“They’ve been finding kimberlite in South Africa for 150 years. It’s not likely that (after) 20 years of finding kimberlite in the NWT that you are done,” he said. “There is more to be found, it’s just not easy,” he said of the process. “You should always be exploring.

“For me, the interest is how difficult they are to find and when, through the geophysical process, you actually find a new kimberlite and a new resource. That, to me, is the fun part — the hunt,” he said, adding that everything in his toolbox is necessary to just find a kimberlite to drill.

Vivian said across the industry, he was involved with exploration and geophysics discoveries at both Diavik and Gahcho Kue mines since 1991 — day one — and has been involved in a significant number of kimberlite discoveries in the NWT.

Small find, big value

In terms of the coveted diamonds contained within the kimberlite, Vivian said it doesn’t take many gems within it to make the rock viable to mine.

“It is because of the value of the diamonds that the rock is so economic,” he said. “If you have one carat per tonne and the diamonds have a huge value and it could be mined, but there are a lot of pipes in the world that have one to 1.5 carats per tonne, but then the value is not there so they can’t mine it.”

But while Vivian has found success in his geophysical exploration work, he also has found perhaps a greater discovery — the unparalleled passion for his lifelong work.

“You couldn’t pay me to work in a mine, but you could pay me zero to be the guy to actually look for it, because that is what I love doing. My passion is looking for it and creating value and success for the companies I work for. That’s really it.”