2016–20 What have we done?

Trucks following one another

We have completed 21 collaborative activities that have mapped the geology of northern Australia, covering over 3 million km² — 39% of Australia's landmass and delivering more than 250 datasets and reports.

  • The Australian Government’s initial commitment of $100 million funded the commencement of the Exploring for the Future program. It was an investment in the exploration of new technology, science and data to better understand northern Australia’s potential for mineral, energy and water resources.
  • Working with community stakeholders, state and territory government partners, MinEx and other Commonwealth government agencies, and academia, we have mapped and analysed the surface, and probed deep into the Earth beneath northern Australia.
  • Geoscience Australia’s world-class, trusted data and analysis capability brought together new thinking and innovative technologies and techniques to develop a holistic understanding of Australia’s resource potential.
  • The results combine new pre-competitive scientific data and information with existing knowledge to assess mineral, energy and groundwater potential.
  • Looking at data and information in a holistic way has enabled us to understand and map each layer of the Earth in a way never achieved before. For instance, a small groundwater sample may contain traces of minerals or hydrocarbons from deep below the surface, while the same tools used to search for minerals can also indicate the presence and quality of groundwater.
  • The focus on cutting-edge technologies and techniques will provide us with tools for scientific investigation for decades to come.

An overview of the Exploring for the Future program, the goals of the program and what we did during 2016–20 (2:08 min)

A holistic approach—combining the old and the new

Integrating data collected over the last 70 years with new data and information—captured in 250 datasets covering more than 3 million km2—allowed us to develop a holistic understanding of the Earth beneath northern Australia.

We collected data using a wide range of cutting-edge techniques, such as airborne electromagnetic (AEM) surveying—a non-invasive technique like taking a CT scan of the Earth. Surveying the land via a variety of methods from the ground and air gave us a view in layers down to 200 km below the Earth’s surface. We analysed hundreds of rock, soil and water samples; measured signals from earthquakes and lightning strikes; and surveyed and mapped the land with aircraft and seismic trucks.

While each dataset we have collected is incredibly valuable, it is our analysis of the layers together with scientific synthesis that provide a step-change in our understanding of what’s happening below the ground and where potential new resource discoveries can be made.

Collaboration—exploring in partnership

Working in collaboration with a large range of stakeholders gave us unprecedented access to areas across northern Australia. Combined with our engagement with state and territory governments and academia, this has improved our ability to continue this type of work into the future.

Working with local communities allowed us to tap into regional expertise and provided those communities with opportunities to learn new skills. For example, our sample processing was conducted at temporary training operations, with facilities established in Alice Springs and Kununurra employing 13 Aboriginal trainees to process soil and drill core samples. During the first 4 years, the Exploring for the Future program has contributed to 310 jobs in Australia.

The program continues to build on current findings to provide consistent national coverage and expand benefits into southern Australia. Some of the projects continue on under the current program (2020–24).

To find out more about our current projects, visit the  Discover our projects page. 

A map of completed Exploring for the Future activities 2016-20 (high resolution)

A detailed map of completed Exploring for the Future activities across northern Australia during 2016–20 (as at June 2020)