Research in Geology
Research projects are undertaken in collaboration with various institutions and universities worldwide. The projects currently being pursued by the academic staff include:
- Interaction between styles of mineralization and environmental change in the Precambrian:
- Geochronology, sedimentary provenance, sequence stratigraphy and palaeomagnetism of Mesoarchean to Palaeoproterozoic sedimentary successions on the Kaapvaal and Pilbara cratons.
- Multidisciplinary study of the Precambrian biosphere and surficial oxygenation, Kaapvaal Craton, South Africa.
- Investigation of iron deposits in South Africa, Brazil and India.
- Investigation of base metal deposits in the Bushmanland region, the Areachap Group in the Northern Cape and the Zambian Copper Belt.
- Provenance studies applied to understanding basin evolution and palaeogeographic reconstructions through time:
- Neoproterozoic relations between Southern Africa and South America.
- Provenance studies applied to the understanding of basin evolution through time.
- Geology, sedimentology, evaluation and utilization of southern African coal resources.
- Documenting and publicising South Africa's national geological, mineral and gemstone heritage.
- Geodynamics of high-grade metamorphic terrains, with particular emphasis on the Neoarchean-Palaeoproterozoic Limpopo Complex.
- Thermal regime, fluid activity and magmatism of regional and local-scale shear-zones in Precambrian granulite complexes.
- Geology of certain nature reserves in the Limpopo Province.
- Geology of greenstone belts and associated granites.
- Geology of the Bushveld Complex and associated platinum group element mineralization.
- Mineralogical control on natural surface water quality in South Africa.
- Medical Geology, with a special focus on naturally occurring geo-health issues.
- Economic geometallurgy (integrated with the Paleoproterozoic Mineralization (PPM) Research Group)
- The origin and effect of fluids in the Earth’s crust in the Archeaen and Palaeoproterozoic eons
- The formation and chronology of caves in the Cradle of Humankind, as well as elsewhere in South Africa
- Mineralogical and cosmochemical research on the comet fragment “Hypatia” from the Libyan Desert Glass area, SW Egypt.
The Palaeo-Proterozoic Mineralization (PPM) Research Group in economic geology and geometallurgy already enjoys national recognition and international exposure, with the UJ’s first NRF Research Chair awarded to the group’s leader. The Paleoproterozoic Mineralization Research Group (PPM) has become the largest research group in the geosciences in South Africa. It is internationally recognized as a leading force in the study of Precambrian paleoenvironmental evolution and associated ore forming processes. The research efforts of the PPM Group are focused on – but by no means restricted to – the Paleoproterozoic Eon of Earth History (1.8 and 2.5 billion years before present). This Eon represents a time of unique changes of System Earth, including a rapid rise in atmospheric oxygen concentrations, and the formation of the first Supercontinents, with associated continental rifts and collisional mountain belts. The Paleoproterozoic Era is also one of the most richly mineralized Eons in geological history, hosting by far the largest concentrations of iron, manganese, platinum and chromium in the world. Many of these mineral deposits are time-bounded and related to the profound environmental changes experienced by System Earth during this time interval. Since 2010, the activities of the PPM group have expanded and diversified to encompass studies of the environment of early life in the Archean Eon.
A considerable proportion of the research carried out by members and students of the PPM Group is aimed to further our understanding of the relationship between environmental change and styles of mineralization in the Paleoproterozoic. This research focus of the PPM Group has particular regional relevance, as much of the formidable mineral wealth of the Paleoproterozoic occurs in Africa - and in particular Southern Africa. Geometallurgical characterization of ores and beneficiation products is a second important research focus of the PPM Group. The latter is aimed to provide detailed quantitative mineralogical and textural information for non-renewable mineral resources that are heterogeneous in composition, in order to assure their sustainable use. In 2006, the PPM group was integrated into a newly established research centre. The research centre enjoys close links to industry, currently being engaged in a 5-year research project into the iron ore resource potential of the Northern Cape Province, funded in equal parts by African Rainbow Minerals and Associated Ore and Metals.
The centre’s excellent and unrivalled research equipment infrastructure plays a key role not only in its research contracts with mining companies, but has also placed the UJ at the forefront of palaeomagnetic research not only in Africa, but also in the world by enabling international research collaborations with, e.g., Caltech, MIT, Yale, the University of Texas at Austin, Occidental College, and the US Geological Survey. In addition, the group took the lead role in the Agouron Geobiology research project, a privately-funded research drilling project involved participants from Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Yale, the Universities of Bern, Muenster, Bremen, amongst others. The South African Department of Science and Technology Research Chair in Geometallurgy was originally granted to Prof Jens Gutzmer, starting January 2008, and was transferred to Prof Fanus Viljoen in June of 2008. Following the expiry of the first 5 year cycle of the Chair, it was subsequently renewed again for the period June 2013 to June 2018. The increasing demand for resources have resulted in a step change to lower-grade or problematic deposits that would not have been mined in the past. These require a thorough understanding of mineralogical constraints on ore processing (i.e. variations in mineral compositions, size, morphology, mineral associations, impact of grind size on liberation, and the reason for deportment of minerals to certain streams), crucial to the interpretation of metallurgical test results and the optimal operation of future (or existing, underperforming) treatment plants.
The primary thrust of geometallurgical research at UJ is therefore to research, develop, apply and teach geometallurgical methods to quantify the mineralogical and textural characteristics of ore bodies, ores, concentrates and successor products in resource types relevant to the South African minerals industry. Research is focussed on geometallurgical aspects of platinum, gold, diamond, nickel, the base metals (nickel, copper-lead-zinc, and manganese), coal and lime. Research into automated mineralogy as applied to the characterisation of ores and ore bodies is conducted on a FEI 600F Mineral Liberation Analyser at the University of Johannesburg. The instrument is located within the Central Analytical Facility of UJ (Spectrum), was purchased late 2008 by the University of Johannesburg in support of the DST Research Chair in Geometallurgy, and was delivered in January 2009. With the Mineral Liberation Analyser, ore particle cross-sections, for example, can be analysed to better understand, optimize and predict mineral processing circuit performance. In combination with laboratory scale flotation testing this provides in-depth insight into the processing behaviour of ores.