BOSTON -- Oil may not be the only valuable commodity buried beneath the sands of Saudi Arabia.
Ohio State University geologists have located new areas of potential metal deposits, based on the analysis of more than 2,100 known occurrences of gold, silver, copper, and other metals in the western third of the Saudi peninsula.
Geological sciences doctoral student Abdulrahman Shujoon and his advisor, Douglas Pride, professor of geological sciences at Ohio State, analyzed more than 260,000 square miles of variable terrain in the country, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Texas.
Shujoon used global information system (GIS) software to pinpoint sites where metals are likely to be found, based on the age of rock, the shape of the terrain, and the location of key mineral deposits in the area.
"These models can be used to determine good targets for future mineral exploration," Shujoon said.
Saudi Arabia supplies 11 percent of the world's oil from wells in the northeastern part of the country, whereas the potential metal deposits are clustered in western areas that have been mostly overlooked because of their low potential for oil.
"These sites often contain large quantities of lower-grade metal -- ideal for open-pit mining," Pride said.
Shujoon and Pride presented the findings November 8 in a poster session at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Boston.
Among the proposed mineral sites are more than 300 square miles of potential silver deposits, 3,000 square miles of potential iron ore, 5,000 square miles of potential copper, and 5,000 square miles of potential gold.
Shujoon, a native of Saudi Arabia, hopes to put this information to use when he graduates and returns home at the end of 2001. After he obtains his doctorate from Ohio State, he will join the faculty of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
"I decided to begin this project because I felt that it could be of great benefit to the geologists of my country, or any geologists who might be interested in studying mineral exploration of Saudi Arabia," Shujoon said.
After creating models with the GIS software, Shujoon used a different software program, called "Search Map," to create maps of Saudi Arabia with the potential metal deposits marked. Pride and others at Ohio State are developing the Search Map software for the analysis of geological data.
Pride said the same analysis techniques that Shujoon used for this project could prove useful for finding metals in other countries. Even today, prospectors tend to look for new deposits in areas around old deposits, because they have little other information to guide them. That strategy doesn't always pay off, he said.
He cited many gold discoveries in China, Nevada and elsewhere that were located in unlikely places far away from other deposits.
"Knowing where metals have been found in the past helps us establish the overall settings that help us find them in the future," he said. "That's where the GIS software and Search Map come in."
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