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SkyTEM in Kazakhstan: the unique technology in action

A unique airborne geophysical technology of search of solid minerals and underground waters was applied for the first time on the territory of our country. The tests were conducted in the North region of Pribalkhash about 20 kilometers to the East of Moiynty train station. In this part of the Republic, there is a shortage of drinking water, despite the relative proximity of one of the largest lakes in Central Asia – Balkhash. The research was organized by Aurora Minerals Group Kazakhstan company specializing in the transfer of new technologies and attraction of investments in the mining and oil and gas industry of our country.

Journalist, Gregory Bedenko watched the process.

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  1. Kazakhstan experienced pilot Valery Mitrofanov flies a lightweight multipurpose helicopter H-125 (AS-350-B3) made by Airbus Helicopters European concern. The plane for airborne geophysical research was provided by KAZ AIR JET Airline Company operating in the commercial aviation market.
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  2. The co-pilot Walter Koopman has a tremendous experience of flying in different regions of the world, in particular, and in the field of geophysics. A total flight hour of Walter on various types of helicopters is 23 thousand hours.

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3-7. The way from Almaty to the area of geophysical studies located in the Northern Balkhash takes two and a half hours. It is approximately 500 kilometers. The coast of Kazakhstan’s largest waterway has psychedelic landscapes.

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  1. Balkhash is considered as the second largest perennial salt lake (after the Caspian Sea) and 14th in the list of the largest lakes in the world. The uniqueness of the lake is that it is divided by a narrow strait into two parts with different chemical characteristics of water. In the Western part, it is almost fresh, and in the Eastern part, it is salty. The strait is called Uzynaral. This is the narrowest place of the lake. Nearby, the Saryesik peninsula is located.
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  2. Our helicopter crosses Balkhash on the narrowest place across the Uzynaral strait. It’s safer.
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  3. Just beyond the strait, Balkhash city is located with a copper smeltery fuming day and night. The place is rich in minerals.
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  4. Another half hour flight and we touched down in Moiynty village. Here airborne geophysical field station is located, and within a few days all flights for the study of the specified areas will be taken here.
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12-16.The arrival of the helicopter provoked a great interest among the local population, especially children. 17

  1. Wind is quite strong in the region, which undoubtedly complicates the work. There are often dust devils.
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  2. A safe area next to the local school was selected for parking of helicopter and placement of the airborne geophysical survey equipment. Children constantly watched over the work.
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  3. As well as other inhabitants of the village.
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  4. Filling of N-125. An employee of EurocopterKazakhstanEngineering, Madyar Pakhridinov participated as a flight Engineer of the crew.
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  5. Full filling of the helicopter with 500 litres of aviation kerosene. The helicopter is very economical as it is made of almost half of composite materials. However H-125 has excellent performance characteristics. Military versions of this machine are also produced.22
  6. The hardest part of the job is installation and setup of equipment.
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  7. It is placed on a special airborne geophysical platform developed by the Danish company SkyTEMSurveys. The search of anomalies in areas of subsurface rock which can contain metallic ore minerals and aquifers is produced by magnetic gradient measurements. The lightweight five-seat helicopter H-125 lifts the platform with equipment mounted on it using a 35-meter robe.
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  8. Interestingly, to cool the operating equipment, ordinary Russian vodka is used. It’s cheaper than alcohol, which is used in large enough amounts. Moreover, the specialists of the field team don’t drink alcohol at the time of research.
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  9. Assembly and adjustment of equipment is carried out with the participation of specialists of AuroraMineralsGroup.26. Airborne geophysical survey.
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  10. .Airborne geophysical survey.
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  11. All equipment placed on the platform is self-contained and powered from the generator, which is also lifted.28
  12. The installation is an extremely complicated procedure –there are a huge number of wires, connectors. They must be correctly connected.29
  13. We lay under the platform.30 31 32

30-32. The children are always here. At site, the safety of activities is provided by the staff of the local akimat and the district police office.33 34

33-34. Logo of AuroraMineralsGroup on board of the helicopter..36 35

35-36. Meanwhile, Walter is preparing his work place. He sets an additional GPS system, switchboard, equipment on board.37 38 39

37-39. Danish experts – John Bluth and Paul Sorensen.40

  1. Setting of equipment is performed before the end of the day.
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41-42. Transport of local residents is archaic but reliable..43

  1.  Evening pastime.
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  2. All equipment was delivered to Moiynty on the truck. The roads are very bad, so pierced tires were changed.
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45-48. Next morning the crew prepares the helicopter for the first test flight.49

  1. The platform is assembled and set.
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50-51. Once again Paul verifies the system. It is necessary to exclude any issues that can lead to its incorrect operation.52

  1. The final toolbox talk.
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  2. Valery Mitrofanov slowly pulls the rope and lifts the platform above the ground.
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  3. The crew has a challenge: it is necessary to accurately calculate the direction and force of the wind and not rock the cargo.
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  4. For the calibration of equipment, it is necessary to take three flights – two at height of 400 metres and 1,000 metres.
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  5. Paul is happy with the initial results.
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  6. John did all heavy work.
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  7. Later the helicopter returns.
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  8. Lifting the platform to a height from 35 to 60 meters, the helicopter’s crew flies along a predetermined path, resembling a zigzag. This helps to scan certain areas. The operating speed on the survey line is from 80 to 100km/h. Curiously, the system allows you to “see” trough the ground at a fairly great depth – up to 500 meters.
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  9. Disconnecting the suspension, the crew moves aside and touched down.
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  10. Now received information is to be downloaded this with hard media system to process and assess the quality of the data.
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  11. Walter does not leave his pipe.
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  12. . After some time Paul lets to fly. The main part of the work starts.
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  13. The helicopter getting off the ground raises a cloud of dust.
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  14. The total weight of the platform made of rigid aerodynamic composite material is 650 kilograms. The platform includes a generator supplying the equipment, magnetometer, laser altimeter, differential GPS, digital camera and other devices.
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  15. The area to be scanned is located 20 kilometers to the East of Moiynty. First, the crew ascends to provide acceleration and reduce aerodynamic loads. Then the helicopter lets down to a working height of 20-35 metres.
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  16. Damir Kysyr, project Manager of AuroraMineralsGroup.
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  17. Oleg Oblasov , senior geologist of AuroraMineralsGroup.
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  18. Nurzhan Kurmanbaev, geologist of AuroraMineralsGroup.
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  19. Young Kazakhstan specialists (from left to right) Oleg Oblasov, Damir Kysyr, Nurzhan Kurmanbaev
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  20. Tailed friend of the crew.
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  21. Vitaly Ruziev is responsible for logistics in the airborne geophysical team.
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  22. Setting of GPS.
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  23. Paul and John arranged an office in the truck.
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75-76. There is a desert…77

  1. Moiynty from the height of bird flight.
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  2. Practical trainings for Kazakhstan people.
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  3. The airborne geophysical technologies are used in accordance with the current program of industrial and innovative development in our country. Therefore, the main condition of the contract with the Danish party was the localization of technology in Kazakhstan and training of domestic specialists. Three young employees of AuroraMineralsGroup graduated from higher educational institutions with the exploration as a major subject take part in works with the Danish specialists.
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  4. ‘The SkyTEM method was originally developed for detection of aquifers’, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of AMG, Said Sultanov says, ‘the Danish Ministry of the environment mapped more than a third of the aquifers of the country with a platform SkyTEM’. Today it is widely accepted globally as the best technology for mapping water resources. Around the world, the state hydrogeological agencies routinely choose this technology for mapping their water resources. However, SkyTEM method can be used for the detection of metallic minerals. The technology of SkyTEM uses a feature of rocks of differing conductivity that can be used to map the boundaries and joints between the different compositions of rocks. The key advantage is that there is detailed information about the structure of anomalies at depth. The technology has a very high signal level relative to the noise ratio. In addition, the equipment is calibrated for a particular location only once, which significantly reduces the processing of the data, and the inverse transformation (inversion) can be received within 2 days from the time of the survey.

A distinctive feature of the SkyTEM platform is to work with the initiation of two alternating rectangular current pulses with a different current strength of about 10 times. The system of data generation allows to map with high resolution near the subsurface of the structure, and to carry out depth mapping.