Use of AW3D within Mineral Exploration

Geoimage utilised the ALOS World 3D Digital Elevation Model (AW3D) to help First Quantum Minerals overcome obstacles in challenging terrain. This innovative solution improved exploration efficiency, saved time and costs, and highlighted the benefits of remote mining operations.


First Quantum Minerals


Andes Mountains, Southern Peru

Area captured

678 sqkm



Services provided

Digital Elevation Model (DEM), AW3D


First Quantum Minerals is a mining company that operates in several countries around the world, primarily mining copper, gold, and nickel, and also producing cobalt, platinum, and palladium. First Quantum Minerals is committed to sustainable and responsible mining practices, community development, and environmental stewardship.


The terrain within the project area was steep and remote, making access to the site difficult. The use of traditional mapping techniques was time-consuming, expensive, and labor-intensive. Therefore, First Quantum Minerals needed an innovative solution to optimise their exploration and planning phase to save time, money, and energy.


The client opted to use the ALOS World 3D (AW3D) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) derived from ALOS-1 satellite imagery as part of their exploration process. The 5-meter resolution AW3D topographic data was identified as a superior solution to off-the-shelf medium-resolution DEMs. The PRISM Triplet dataset involved forward-looking, backward-looking, and nadir sensors, providing better coverage over the area and reducing the occurrence of occlusion holes. As an off-the-shelf product, the data was quickly incorporated into the exploration operations. The use of AW3D within the exploration process resulted in significant time savings in the interpretation and planning stages, improving the ability of field teams to access the highest-priority targets first.

3D Visualisation WorldView-2 over AW3D DEM
Above: 3D Visualisation WorldView-2 over AW3D DEM. (©NTT Data, RESTEC/Included ©JAXA and ©MAXAR 2015).


The use of AW3D improved the efficiency of the exploration process, reducing the time, cost, and energy spent on mapping. The 3D terrain model provided a better understanding of the project area, allowing the field teams to navigate through the steep-sided creek valleys more efficiently, map the project with greater detail, and take gridded samples for analysis. The use of AW3D also allowed for more accurate siting of drill pads and 3D modelling of other datasets.

Analytic Signal Vertical Integral (ASVI) Airborne Magnetics draped over AW3D- Shaded Relief 
(©NTT Data, RESTEC/Included©JAXA)
Above: Analytic Signal Vertical Integral (ASVI) Airborne Magnetics draped over AW3D- Shaded Relief. (©NTT Data, RESTEC/Included ©JAXA).


The use of AW3D in the exploration phase of the mining life-cycle provided several benefits for the client. By optimising their exploration and planning phase, they saved time, money, and energy, which improved their operational efficiency. The use of satellite-derived datasets, such as AW3D, allowed the client to map the project area with greater detail, improving their understanding of the area's geology, and reducing the likelihood of missing high-priority targets. The availability of off-the-shelf AW3D also reduced delivery time and expense. Overall, the use of AW3D demonstrated how innovative solutions can provide significant value to mining operations within remote areas.

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