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Van Tuyl: Brigitte Martini on core samples

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Written by Chris Robbins

Posted on 09 February 2014

In geophysical exploration, one of the most expensive aspects of research tends to be the storage and archiving of rock samples from the field and their corresponding data. In particular, the storage of numerous cores within sheds and warehouses can cost businesses a rather large sum of money, and that cost only grows as more research is done and more core data needs to be stored. Even worse than the cost, however, is the fact that the vast majority of these stored cores will only be temporarily useful as time in storage exposes the samples to potential damage or alteration. As much as 80% of a company's exploratory budget can be spent on these eventually-useless cores, an issue Brigitte Martini of Corescan services addressed in this week's edition of CSM's Van Tuyl lecture series.

Martini, a volcanologist, geothermal expert, and now employee for Corescan, presented on how her company is aiming to minimize the amount of money and data lost to trying to store core samples, and that is through the use of hyperspectral core scanning. She explained how even though this technology has existed for roughly 40 years, Corescan is one of only two companies in the world implementing it for this particular purpose. This is due to the rapid growth of computational power available over the last several years, as nowadays there are computers capable of handling the vast amounts of calculations and data involved with core sampling. The basic goal of this technology, as Martini put it, is to allow researchers to digitally archive both images and data from core samples in an effort to minimize and possibly even eliminate the need to physically store large quantities of rock.

The process for these automated core scan imagers is based upon infrared spectroscopy and works similarly to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The device pushes samples within a core-box through, gathers data, and constructs a digital image of the core one row at a time. The resulting data and visualizations are highly accurate, more detailed, and more descriptive than that of earlier technologies. These significant improvements do come at a cost of taking slightly longer to scan than earlier methods (roughly five to ten minutes longer per scan according to Martini), but seem to be well worth the extra wait.

How Corescan managed to increase these accuracies were changes to two key ideas. First, the possibilities for precision were greatly improved, as models of this device can be found with precisions ranging from several millimeters per image pixel down to only a few microns per pixel. In addition, while most past programs were set to label each pixel of a sample's image with whatever mineral filled up the majority of that pixel, Corescan will instead record all traces of mineral in a pixel's worth of space and label that pixel as such. This process does throw off the total figures of minerals by percentage within a sample, or "semi-qualitative data" (meaning that totaling percentages of mineral A, B, etc. will result in a number slightly above 100%), but it allows for a much more intricate and descriptive map of the sample's structure to be formulated.

In order to handle this massive increase in data and precision, as well as the highly detailed images of cores, Martini explained how Corescan has turned to cloud storage for its vast capacity. With their own cloud-shared servers, companies using Corescan devices can permanently store any amount of data and imagery from cores and access them at any time. In addition, these servers also allow companies and researchers to put together multiple data sets and run tests and visualizations for surprisingly large areas of samples. This effectively allows one to accurately map out the composition and structure of a sizeable area rather than just a single core site.

While the technology's use for this purpose is still a very young idea according to Martini, several mining companies around the world have already discovered its usefulness and made these devices integral parts of their operation. Martini also stated that work is already in development for a Corescan device more specifically geared towards properties of interest to oil and gas companies and that, in a few years, these devices will have the same level of functionality and use within that field as is already present in the mining field.