Australia's Victoria sitting on $20 billion-worth of gold?

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London, May 9 (ANI): Up to 20 billion-dollar-worth of undiscovered gold could be lying underground in the Australian state of Victoria, say scientists.

In 1851, Victoria experienced its first gold rush - a grain of gold was discovered in a waterhole near Bathurst.

Within two years, the state's population had doubled to 222,000, one-quarter of whom worked in the gold fields. Since then, some 2500 tonnes have been mined from the area.

Vladimir Lisitsin of GeoScience Victoria, a government agency in Melbourne that maps the geology of the region, says that much of the state's so-called gold province, however, remains poorly explored.

He says that most of the gold already mined in the region is from central Victoria, where gold-bearing quartz rocks are exposed on the surface.

"In the northern part of the state the same potentially gold-bearing rocks are hidden under the sediments, and gold deposits are still there waiting to be discovered," New Scientist quoted him as saying.

Lisitsin and his colleagues have used geological data from three zones in the gold province to work out how much of the metal might still be in the ground.

He says it is 90 per cent certain that at least 500 tonnes is waiting to be discovered in the region. According to today's prices, that would be worth 20 billion dollars.

Much of this gold - some 290 tonnes - should be in a 10,000-square-kilometre region in the north of the gold province called the Bendigo zone. However, the team doesn't know precisely where.

The economic effect of such a find would be significant. Richard Goldfarb of the US Geological Survey says the work is exciting because of the amount of gold involved and because existing local infrastructure could mine it cheaply.

"It would be a huge economic boost, if located," he says.

However, mining gold on this scale could do a lot of damage to the environment.

Gavin Mudd at Monash University in Melbourne, who studies the effects of mining on the environment, says that Australia has a good track record for sustainable gold mining thanks to strong regulation.

However, the environmental costs of increasing the scale of the mining industry are poorly understood, he says.

The research has been published in the Journal Ore Geology Reviews. (ANI)

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