Aberdeen geologist involved in Scotland's new gold rush

Aberdeen geologist involved in Scotland's new gold rush

Scotgold Resources Ltd received planning permission at the end of October to develop the mine in Cononish, near Tyndrum, in the Loch Lomond National Park.

This is the first gold mine to be approved in Scotland since gold was mined 500 years ago at Leadhills to make the Scottish crown regalia.

The mine could begin commercial operation as early as 2013, and over the decade of its useful life will produce around 20,000 ounces of gold and 80,000 ounces of silver each year - worth an estimated £180 million at today’s prices. Fifty jobs will be created, and the mining operation is expected to bring a significant economic boost to the small local community.

Meanwhile, research part-funded by Scotgold and involving Aberdeen expert Dr Clive Rice, colleagues at the University of Leicester, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), Glasgow, and the British Geological Survey, aims to discover further big deposits in the Scottish Highlands which will mean that the fledgling industry can be sustained beyond the lifetime of Cononish, and possibly bring a new ‘gold rush’ to Scotland.

The Scottish Highlands have been studied extensively by geologists in recent years and small deposits of gold have been found, though none on the same scale as Cononish.

The gold at Cononish has ancient roots. Before the Atlantic Ocean opened, the highlands formed part of a mountain belt that extended from Canada through Ireland and Scotland into Scandinavia.

This mountain belt formed as the Iapetus Ocean (a forerunner of the Atlantic Ocean) was destroyed by the collision of tectonic plates half a billion years ago. This joined Scotland and England together for the first time.

The gold was concentrated, deep underground, as hot water derived partly from granitic magma circulated through large faults. The hot water carried gold and deposited it, with quartz, into veins. This process, repeated time and time again, has brought the gold to economic levels.

Dr Rice is newly retired from his full-time post but retains links with the University where he has worked since 1973, having begun his career with the British Geological Survey.

His current research is focussed on gold deposits occurring in northern Britain and Ireland. Apart from Cononish these include a large deposit at Curraghinalt in the Sperrin Mountains of County Tyrone.

He and colleagues at Durham University and SUERC are attempting to date the gold mineralisation so that it can be related to major geological events such as volcanic activity and mountain building.

Understanding how and when the gold was deposited will enable more to be found.

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