Scientists search for gold in Yukon and Alaska

Thought the gold rush was ancient history? Think again.

UBC Mineral Deposit Research Unit’s (MDRU) research team has recently returned from their government funded Yukon and Alaska Metallogeny project (YAM) for the second year running.

YAM is one of the newest projects from MDRU’s long line of research programs, in which a handful of researchers are annually sent to the Yukon. The objective of the YAM project is to discover and predict patterns of metal emergence in the area, particularly that of gold mineralization.

“Everything’s got gold in it,” said MDRU Director Craig Hart. “If you pick up any rock, anywhere you can detect it down at parts-per-billion or parts-per-trillion level. But we need to find places where it’s up to parts-per-thousand level.”

YAM seeks to both advance the scientific research community and improve economic welfare. So far, the project has met large amount of success and its benefactors agree. YAM recently received a total funding of $1.25 million from various sources, including Canada’s national funding agency, NSERC.

Although searching for gold may sound glamorous, being on the research team is no easy feat.

“Many times, you’ll just need to bring your own tent and sleeping bags, and camp out on the rocks,” said Hart. “We try to take students who have some sort of appreciation for working outside. That’s the whole thing about being a geologist — they’re outside a lot, so they have to lik ebeing outside.” There is also a limited time frame to conduct the study, as Yukon’s harsh winter months allow for little research and might even cause physical harm to researchers who are caught in a storm.

“There are all these elements that are against you,” said Hart, who previously lived in Yukon for 15 years. “You essentially have 100 days between when the snow melts and the snow comes back. You need to be very strategic in getting out of there right at the first of May.”

MDRU plans to use its new funding to send more researchers to the Yukon-Alaska border, which will benefit multiple parties — from students to industrial companies.

“It’s a win-win-win situation. Everybody walks out with new information, new knowledge and hopefully we have a bunch of highly trained individuals with degrees who are out looking for jobs,” said Hart. “Maybe one of these companies knows about these students because they sponsored them and they get hired. When you look at it that way, I think it’s a great situation about university partnerships.”

MDRU will send out another team of scientists in June 2017 for YAM’s third exploration to the Yukon-Alaska Border. In the meantime, Hart will be conducting his next metallogeny research project in Turkey later this week.