Using the Magnetic Technique to Investigate the
Subsurface in the Limpopo Region of South Africa
Mitchell L. Johnson
Jackson State University
We employed the magnetic technique to take readings of the magnetic field in the
Bushveld Complex. The Bushveld Complex is located in Limpopo, South Africa. The
Bushveld Complex is known for its richness in natural resources. We are here to image a
previously known dyke. This dyke has already been imaged by aeromagnetic data. Our
ground magnetic survey will give one a better image of the dyke. Our survey consisted of
30 east-west lines that were 1000 meters long, oriented perpendicularly to a previously
known dyke, as well as 3 north-south lines that ran parallel to this geologic feature. The
results do show the previously imaged dyke along with 3 smaller dykes. This data could
be used for future mining exploration in the surveyed area. By knowing what is beneath
the subsurface miners will be able to mine in a safe and resourceful way.
Magnetics is a branch of geophysics that studies how the properties or effects of
magnetic fields change in different places on the Earth. (McCarthy and Rubdige 2005).
The Earth’s magnetic field can be thought of as a point on a surface, though it is
generated by the movement of the fluid core, which consists of molten rock called
magma. The magnetic field on the Earth will change because of differences in the
geology of the surface. At a given location, the Earth’s magnetic field is described by a
vector and is measured using units of nanoteslas.
In this study, we conducted geophysical investigations in the Bushveld Complex,
located in the Limpopo Province in the northernmost part of South Africa (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 Map of Bushveld Complex
The Bushveld Complex has an abundance of minerals that are mined. This area is known
worldwide for these richest. (McCarthy and Rubidge 2005). By imaging the subsurface,
we can assist mining companies to be more efficient. We can provide these companies
with locations and images of what lies beneath the subsurface, preventing wasted time
and money on trial and error exploration.
While in the Bushveld Complex we conducted a magnetic survey. This survey
was used to map and locate a previously known dyke. Our results not only confirm the
location of this large dyke, but also identify several smaller dykes in the vicinity. This is
very pertinent for the mining industry.
The Bushveld Complex was formed around 2 billion years ago. There are 3 parts
of the Bushveld Complex: an eastern, western, and northern branch. All of these are very
alike and were formed at about the same time. Magma from the Earth’s mantle that came
to the surface made the Bushveld Igneous Complex. This continued to happen over a
period of time. As the molten rock cooled over time, crystallization of different minerals
at different temperatures lead to the formation layered structures were formed which are
One important layer is the Upper Group 2 (UG2) reef The UG2 contains has
chromite, platinum, and the Merensky Reef. The Merensky Reef has with a width of 30
to 90 cm and the UG2 contains have almost 90% of the worlds known PGE reserves.
Several geophysical methods were employed to investigate the subsurface
structure of the Bushveld Complex however, for this study, I will focus on the magnetic
method. The magnetic method depends on Coulomb’s Law, which describes the force
generated by a magnetic field.
In this equation, F is the force, m1 and m2 are the strengths of two magnetic
poles, m is the magnetic permeability, and r is the distance between the two poles.
(Burger et al., 2006)
To collect the magnetic data, an instrument called a magnetometer is used. This
instrument measures the strength of the magnetic field at a particular location. The
magnetometer does not measure position, but handheld GPS units can be used to
determine the measurement location.
The magnetometer will not give a true reading if a reading is taken in the vicinity
of metallic objects; therefore, readings should not be taken near railway lines, cars,
houses and electric lines. These places and objects will change the magnetic field in the
area. Also, the magnetometer operator should not carry metallic objects because these
objects will have an influence on the magnetic field.
At our fieldsite, data was collected along a grid of GPS coordinates, consisting of
30 lines that were 1000 meters long, striking roughly perpendicular to the dykes imaged
by Anglo Platinum aeromagnetic data (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2 GPS tracks overlaid on aeromagnetic data showing a known dyke
We were only able to survey 800 meters due to a power line and thorns in the
vegetation. There were also 3 north-south lines that were conducted after the original
survey had been completed. The survey line spacing was 25 meters between each line.
We took a reading every 5 meters for the entire 800 meters of the survey line. A base
station magnetometer was also operated to measure diurnal variations, which was then
used to correct our raw magnetic data. Diurnal variation is the repetitive variation with
time in the Earth’s magnetic field (USGS 2008). Everyday after collecting field data the
group would process data. This included correlating the GPS readings with the position
204900 205000 205100 205200 205300 205400 205500 205600
204900 205000 205100 205200 205300 205400 205500 205600
of the magnetometer at the time the measurement was taken, converting the field values
into Mag2D, and making a spreadsheet in Excel.
Our magnetic survey found one major magnetic dyke. This dyke is located
around 15 meters below the surface. I was able to interpolate this by using 2D forward
modeling. I tried to match the data collected in the field by placing dykes in the forward
model (Fig 3).
Figure 3 2D Forward Model Profile
There is an overburden of 15 meters that has been previously found by Anglo Platinum.
In addition to the main dyke, we also found 3 other anomalies that may be smaller dykes.
This is shown in a 3-D view of the survey data that has been interpolated. Next, we made
a 2-D profile of the anomalies. We realized that there is a secondary dyke that lies very
close to our major dyke (Fig 4).
Figure 4. 3D view of data
The major dyke imaged has a northeast-southwest strike and has very high
magnetic values, peaking at 4677 nT. (Fig. 3). The 3 other dykes that were imaged were
smaller but were also deeper in the subsurface. One thing to take note of is that everyday
someone different took magnetic readings. This means that there may be readings that
were taken that are not as accurate as others.
Another thing to take note of is that our magnetic data was collected on the
ground, which is different than the aeromagnetic data collected by Anglo Platinum. The
aeromagnetic survey is mainly used to map large areas. This is done by the use of an
airplane flying over the survey area. Ground magnetic surveys map smaller areas but in
greater detail. Both have uses in the mining exploration. Some mineral deposits are
associated with an increase in abundance of magnetic minerals. Ground magnetic
surveys will allow us to pinpoint a specific magnetic reading, where as aeromagnetic
surveys will only give an overview of the area.
With the images we have produced of the Bushveld Complex, miners will know
how and where to mine. A dyke is an intrusion of rocks into the natural geological
structure and will be a weak point in the subsurface. If miners were to put a mine close to
a dyke, the mine may become weak and collapse. This is very important because
people’s lives will be at stake.
The magnetic method was employed to image the subsurface within the Bushveld
Complex in Limpopo, South Africa. Using a magnetometer, we surveyed an area that
consisted of 30 lines that were 800 meters long in search of changes in the magnetic field.
These changes in the magnetic field are important because certain minerals have a
specific magnetic value and features, such as dykes, can be identified. Knowing the
location of dykes in a future mining area will keep miners safe. We imaged one major
dyke that was previously observed and we also found 3 smaller dykes. By knowing what
is beneath the subsurface, Anglo Platinum will use this data to further their exploration of
natural resources in a safe and efficient process.
I would like to thank The Pennsylvania State University for being a part of the
Summer Research Opportunities Program. Dr. Andy Nyblabe for letting me participate
in the AfricaArray program and field school. I would like to give thanks to My Mentors
Dr. Samantha Hansen and Dr. Rick Brazier for their guidance and time that has been
given to me this summer. Also, The University of Witwatersrand for hosting us.
Burger, R.H., Jones, C.H., Sheehan, A.F. Introduction to Applied Geophysics. Norton &
McCarthy, T. and Rubidge, B. The Story of Earth & Life. South Africa: Struik, 2005.
U.S. Geological Survey. 2008. 13 July 2009 http://geomag.usgs.gov/intro.php