We know of about 5,200 mineral species, each of which has a unique combination of chemical composition and atomic structure. There are millions of mineral samples housed in museums, warehouses, universities or private collections, many of which have been neatly described and cataloged. For instance, it’s standard practice for a mineral sample to be tagged with information like the location it was recovered from, the level or occurrence, the age of the deposit or the mineral’s growth rate.
When you combine this information — not on one deposit but a myriad — with data on the surrounding geography, the geological setting, and coexisting minerals, it’s possible to fill in the blanks and infer the existence of not only deposits but also new mineral species.
It’s only recently that the technology has enabled scientists to use such a ‘big data’ approach.
“The quest for new mineral deposits is incessant, but until recently mineral discovery has been more a matter of luck than scientific prediction,” said Dr. Shaunna Morrison of the Deep Carbon Observatory in a statement. “All that may change thanks to big data.”