INFACT’s geophysical exploration campaign in Andalusia using helicopter and drones took place in the first half of April 2019. These activities were carried out in two areas, one around Cobre Las Cruces in the Gerena-Guillena municipalities and the other in the Riotinto-Nerva mining area. The At Clave team deployed the street information campaign in the involved municipalities.

The City Councils were already aware of the INFACT project and the activities that were programmed, that’s why it was time to spread the word among the local population. The aim? Let everyone know about the campaign and make it a topic of conversation at high schools, agricultural cooperatives, bars… Paula Miralles was responsible for the information campaign around Cobre Las Cruces and Fran Fernández in the Riotinto-Nerva mining area.

In addition to putting up posters in crowded places, Paula and Fran took the opportunity to personally explain what the research campaign was going to consist of. They met high school teachers, health centre managers, police, firefighters, etc. The information campaign was also advertised on the radio, in newspapers and via the social media.

Meanwhile, at the At Clave office three demonstration events were organized to learn more about a live exploration survey using non-invasive techniques. These events also served as a meeting point for project partners.

It was not a rainy spring until the exploration campaign. Rainfalls seemed to have been waiting for the arrival of the INFACT helicopter and the Easter holidays… Therefore, the organization of the activities was conditioned by the rain (even the possibility of their performance), that’s why it was necessary to adapt to the meteorology.

The first two demonstration events took place in the farmhouse Cortijo El Esparragal, 25 km northwest of Seville, a beautiful place with more than 400 years of history that currently houses both a small hotel and a farm for breeding horses and cattle. The helicopter landing zone was located at the edge of this extensive property, which borders the Cobre Las Cruces mine. At this site, it was planned to watch live the exploration campaign operations, but the free cows during the breeding season, some “threatening” cattle grids and the rains of the last few days, advised at the last minute to look for another place, safer and closer to the main building. And that was not for nothing because the first activity, on Tuesday morning, April 9th, was organized for science students from the two closest high schools (Gerena and Guillena), involving teenagers between 15 to 17 years, who enjoyed participating in a “live and direct” exploration campaign.

We had agreed with Geotech’s helpful staff how the helicopter’s operations would be organized (depending on the weather): we would see the VTEMmax calibration manoeuvers and the landing, and we would approach to see the equipment at close range, and listen to the explanations by Vickus Prinsloo and Armand van der Sandt (Geotech). In addition to this “real life” experience, we had prepared several other activities: an explanation by David Amador and Laura Sánchez, from the Departments of Geology and Environment of Cobre Las Cruces, about the operations in the mine; a small exhibition of objects and didactic videos about the daily use of copper and its life cycle; the more technical presentations by the geophysicists Isla Fernández (Geognosia) and Joan Marie Blanco (HZDR) on the technologies used; and even the possibility of approaching other conventional instruments for geophysical ground exploration (thanks to Emilio Mora for carrying them)… But without a doubt the most exciting and innovative thing for young people was to participate “live” in an exploration campaign with airborne techniques!

The second day at Esparragal was targeted to a more specialized public. On Thursday 11th in the afternoon, we expected to gather around the presentation of the INFACT campaign professionals from the sector, institutions related to mining, innovation and local development (Manuel Vázquez from DGIEM and Cristina Amate from Agencia IDEA welcomed the participants). On that occasion, we were accompanied on behalf of Cobre Las Cruces by the mining engineer Iván Carrasco (Polymetallic Refinery Project) and senior Geologist Juan Manuel Escobar. A group of students and professors of the Master of the International University of Andalusia also joined us.

It was also time for an INFACT partners meeting and we listened to presentations from Juan Requejo (At Clave), Ana Braña (Geognosia) and Andrea Viezzoli (Aarhus). The HIF colleagues who worked on the drone campaign at the same time also approached Cortijo El Esparragal that afternoon.

The session’s anecdote was that this time it was not the rain that disrupted the plans to watch the campaign live, but a herd of horses. However, they were kind enough to withdraw from the planned landing area after a while.

Easter was beginning and while the processions were going on in Seville, the helicopter moved to Riotinto mining area to start the campaign with the ZTEM. The delay in the development of the campaign due to the intense rainfalls generated a great uncertainty about the event planned there on Tuesday 23rd April. We had been organizing together with Angelo Farci from Atalaya Mining the second demonstration event with the high schools, now in the area of Riotinto, but the road access to the selected place was really dangerous after a week of heavy rains. However, the enormous interest in hosting the INFACT event expressed by the two nearby city councils (Minas de Riotinto and Nerva) and, above all, the excited teachers of the two high schools that wanted to be able to watch live the operations of the helicopter-borne campaign kept us all morning in tension… Even rain was expected!

Photo credit: Armand van der Sandt

The INFACT project was presented at the auditorium of the Nerva High School. There, the functioning of the ZTEM was showed to the fifty young students and science teachers of the area while we were aware of the leaden grey sky and attentive to Armand’s messages about the departure of the flight.

We could hardly believe that in the end, against all odds, everything went well: the helicopter, piloted by Walter, was approaching over the reddish horizon from the viewpoint of the Corta Atalaya. The exhibition of the equipment was a success and finished just in time before a surprise hailstorm!

Text and images: Virginia del Río (At Clave), Seville, June 2019


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