05.03.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Tales Set in Stone: identifying Africa’s mineral wealth

Participants of IGCP 470

Over 335 projects in about 150 countries with contributions of thousands of Earth scientists attest to the scientific and applied quality of the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) since its inception in 1972. Now, 40 years later, there are many stories to tell and the IGCP has decided to celebrate with a publication of some of these Tales set in Stone. In the weeks surrounding the official celebration, we will be using a selection of stories to introduce the 5 major themes of the IGCP: Earth Resources, Global Change, Geohazards, Hydrogeology and Deep Earth.

In recent years, the geoscience sector in Africa has benefited from important international investment to meet a significant global increase in demand for mineral and energy resources. As a consequence, many African countries have now launched new national geological mapping programmes.  

One of the most geologically enigmatic regions of the continent is found in central Africa, which includes Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, although some progress has been made in the latter two countries, probably because of their currently high level of oil and mineral exploration.

At the time of IGCP project 470’s inception in 2002, geoscience research in Central Africa was facing many difficulties including limited modern data, outdated geological maps of the colonial-era or by-products of mineral prospecting projects of the 1980s, and unequal distribution of surveys, as well as a lack of inter-project communication, particularly across international boundaries.  As a consequence, trans-border correlations, which would have benefited from regional treatment, were difficult to establish.

During its activities, the project established a network of cooperation with researchers in Africa, Europe and North and South America.  Annual field workshops were organised in the concerned countries in central Africa, and new data were obtained in various laboratories of the network. For the first time in decades, foreign geoscientists had the opportunity to carry out fieldwork in the CAR and Chad. The University of Kinshasa also hosted its first geological meeting since the independence of the DRC in1960.

IGCP 470 also achieved the important objective of breaking down the isolation facing many researchers in the region. Besides field excursions, during which young scientists were provided with opportunities to learn from more experienced colleagues, the careers of many have been boosted and five of them have since completed doctoral degrees thanks to cooperative research between universities and research institutions in the region and their counterparts in Europe. Through the partner institutions, the development of an important regional database now provides us with a better understanding of the geological architecture of the region. Furthermore, a new trans-boundary geological and ore deposit map has been published for the central African region; the pre-colonial map of Cameroon has been updated and the chronology of the evolution of the Precambrian basement rocks has been more accurately defined. Such age differentiation assists the interpretation of the geology and thus helps to guide mineral exploration.

The outputs from IGCP 470 have also contributed to current international geological mapping projects. The new data gathered were crucial to finalising the central African part of the 2nd edition of the Tectonic Map of Africa published in 2011.  In 2008, Cameroon was among the first African countries to contribute to the OneGeology initiative, which aims to make a single trans-national geological world map accessible online.

The African geoscience community through the Geological Society of Africa is engaged in promoting awareness of the IGCP and its benefits and directing these to African Earth science leaders and institutions. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is presently funding a four-year programme to boost the development of the IGCP in Africa through training workshops and direct support for individual projects.

Extract taken from Tales set in Stone – 40 Years of the International Geoscience Programme IGCP, published in 2012 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

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