Seismic testing to uncover mineral potential in resource-rich regions

A large seismic survey is underway in Sudbury, that could have major implications for mineral exploration in the future. Large vibration trucks, set up along highways, send out seismic waves which reflect off features in the earth's crust up to 40 metres below the surface and send that information back to receivers.

Laurentian University conducting 7-year, $104-million study into structures in earth's crust

The data collection for the Metal Earth Project involves vibration trucks which send out seismic waves. Those waves reflect off features in the earth's crust and then back to receivers or geophones that have been spread out 20 to 30 metres apart along the roadway. (Mining Exploration Research Centre at Laurentian University)

The large trucks seen recently along major roadways in Sudbury are conducting seismic testing.

It's all part of a major research project by Laurentian University.

That seismic testing is not to detect natural or man-induced mining seismic activity, rather the testing is similar to sonar or ultrasound, says Harold Gibson, director of the Metal Earth Project.

The vibration trucks send out seismic waves, which reflect off features in the earth's crust and then back to receivers or geophones that have been spread out 20 to 30 metres apart.

The data is compiled into a seismograph showing 40 kilometres below the surface of the earth.

"To get an impression of what does [the] earth's crust look like in these metal-endowed areas versus what the earth's crust and mantle look like in less-endowed areas, to see what the differences are. So we can understand the processes of metal enrichment and understand better where our resources are," says Gibson.

The $104 million dollar, 7-year study is a massive development project led by the Mining Exploration Research Centre (MERC) at Laurentian.

"This is a major research initiative that has never been undertaken before."

Gibson says funding for the project is from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund and Laurentian University. They also have 22 additional partners from academia, industry and government.

The project will involve training 30 postdoctoral fellows, 80 Masters and PhD grad students and 105 Bachelor of Science students.

Right now the researchers are in the data collection phase of the project.

According to Gibson, they've already conducted similar seismic surveys in Quebec and northeastern Ontario. They be in Greater Sudbury until the end of October before moving on to northwestern Ontario in November.

The seismic survey will focus on Quebec and Ontario for now, but Gibson says there are plans to further expand over the next year or two.

No threat to nearby residents or homes

Vibrator seismic trucks are being used along major highways in Greater Sudbury until the end of October, as part of a massive research study called Metal Earth Project. (supplied)
Those who live near where the seismic testing is underway in Sudbury shouldn't be concerned, Gibson says.

There is traffic control around the vibration trucks. The receivers are small red and orange boxes set out along the roadside.

"These are recording the vibrations that are reflected back from different features within the crust." 

These receivers are not threatening, says Gibson, but he does ask that residents not disturb them.

Implications for mining exploration

The findings will have implications for mineral exploration in the future.

"Are there large structural features, features within the earth's crust and the mantle that would control the location of these [mineral] resources?"

Gibson admits the seismic testing doesn't detect the resources themselves.

"But rather on the large scale regional crustal features, scales of tens or more kilometres that may have controlled metal distribution."

The information produced from the Metal Earth Project will be available publicly, meaning mining companies can use the information to help them better locate or target where they might want to explore.

The seismic testing underway in Sudbury will produce seismic graphs like this one depicting up to 40 kilometres below the earth's surface. (Mining Exploration Research Centre at Laurentian University)


Angela Gemmill


Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who covers news in Sudbury and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to