Inversion of Magnetic Data Acquired with a Rotary-Wing Unmanned Aircraft System for Gold Exploration


A hexacopter unmanned aircraft system instrumented with a caesium vapour magnetometer recorded total magnetic intensity over a 5.0 km2 prospective gold area in the Abitibi Subprovince of the Canadian Precambrian Shield. The survey also included a N–S repeatability line which showed that the unmanned aircraft system was very stable in flight with average standard deviations from nominal altitude and easting being 1.8 m and 0.7 m, respectively. The total magnetic intensity map revealed the structural framework of the banded iron formations present in the survey area and showed that the gold ore zones are not directly associated with magnetic highs but rather with steeply dipping faults. The total magnetic intensity data was inverted in 3-D using unconstrained and constrained approaches with 12.5 m (northing) × 12.5 m (easting) × 5 m (depth) cells and a maximum of 20 iterations. The processed (after diurnal corrections, heading correction, and tie-line levelling) total magnetic intensity data was input directly in the unconstrained inversion algorithm. Initial model building for the constrained inversion was a much more laborious process involving the inclusion of 15 synthetic structures based on borehole magnetic susceptibility measurements and knowledge of the local geology. The results of both inversion approaches were very similar. They revealed the presence of near-vertical thin sheets, individually resolvable down to approximately 400 m. In this particular case, the straightforward unconstrained inversion yielded a realistic and detailed model of the subsurface in approximately 1 h of runtime. Unmanned aircraft system total magnetic intensity data could therefore be processed and inverted almost immediately after acquisition and have an impact on decisions made in the field while a survey is still in progress.

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The authors thank NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) for providing the Engage Grant to Dr. Claire Samson and scholarship to Michael Cunningham.

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Correspondence to Michael Cunningham.

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Cunningham, M., Samson, C., Laliberté, J. et al. Inversion of Magnetic Data Acquired with a Rotary-Wing Unmanned Aircraft System for Gold Exploration. Pure Appl. Geophys. 178, 501–516 (2021).

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  • Unmanned aircraft systems
  • Magnetics
  • Inversion
  • Airborne surveying
  • Mineral exploration