EUCALYPTUS leaves showing traces of gold. Photograph: Dr. Melvyn Lintern

EUCALYPTUS leaves showing traces of gold. Photograph: Dr. Melvyn Lintern

Eucalyptus Trees Gold Leaf Australia's Exploration Dollar

Issue 62, October 2013

Researchers operating in South Australia and in Australia’s gold capital, Kalgoorlie, have found that eucalyptus trees offer a precise indication of where to drill for gold.

“Some species of eucalypts growing on top of mineral deposits,” ASX-listed Adelaide Resources told shareholders this week, “transport gold from significant depths via their root system and deposit it as tiny particles in the above ground foliage of the tree. It is then possible to sample leaf and twig material, determine its gold content and delineate biogeochemical anomalies.”

Eucalyptus leaves were previously known to contain gold, but scientists have fiercely disagreed over whether the gold was airborne or pumped from underground via a tree’s trunk. Using the Australian Synchrotron, the largest piece of scientific equipment in the southern hemisphere, geochemist Dr. Melvyn Lintern has been able to prove that the gold content was embedded in the leaf tissue and was present in lower densities in both its bark and trunk.

Gold concentrations vary greatly from tree to tree, such that by sampling debris, scientists can pinpoint precisely which eucalyptus is sitting on the biggest deposit of gold. Growing in average January temperatures above 34 degrees centigrade, eucalyptus roots delve more than 40m deep, according to National Geographic. As a pointer for drilling, the Lintern leaf method could therefore be more detailed than relying on outcrops at surface.

“Eucalyptus trees are so common that the technique could be widely applied across Australia,” Dr. Lintern said. “The work will enable explorers to cover more ground with a limited amount of funds.” As few as 20 leaves can be gathered for sampling, his study suggests, to give an accurate impression of a tree’s surrounding mineralisation.

The news follows similar experiments in Western Australia on termites, which shuttle metals into their nests and stash zinc and manganese in their jaws, which they then shed in molting sessions as tiny kidney stones.

“By sampling leaves and vegetation and even termite mounds,” Dr. Lintern said, “what we’re doing is driving the exploration dollar a bit further. Drilling can be very expensive, so by analysing vegetation we can cut down costs. The other aspect of course is that it’s very environmentally benign.”

“It is possible to sample leaf and twig material, determine its gold content and delineate biogeochemical anomalies.”

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