The results of an international challenge to unlock the potential of South Australia’s resource-rich Gawler region could spark scores of multi-billion-dollar mining projects, according to energy and resources innovation company Unearthed Solutions.

In February this year, the South Australian government offered an A$250,000 ($165,000) prize pool in a crowdsourcing competition to uncover mineral reserves in the Gawler region. The initiative, ExploreSA: The Gawler Challenge, was run by the state government in conjunction with Unearthed Solutions.

The project called on data specialists to examine open-file datasets to uncover mineral discoveries in the region. The success of the challenge has led the state government to allocate an additional A$5m ($3.64m) to the Geological Survey of South Australia to flesh out the winning concepts into prospects for exploration companies.

Minister for energy and mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan congratulated first prize winner Per-OZ on its entry which combined traditional geology, machine learning, advancing modelling and precision drilling.

“Team Per-OZ, short for Peru/Australia, is a collaborative effort by Dr Paul Pearson from Latin Global and Dr John McLellan from GMEX who both specialise in structural geology, prospectivity analysis, data science, machine learning and modelling,” said the Minister.

“The judging panel chose the solution presented by Per-OZ as the best overall submission due to their unique methodology which could help geologists in the field find that needle in the haystack.

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“Their unique approach may put us one step closer to uncovering new economic mineral deposits in one of the most significant iron oxide copper-gold regions in the world.”

The competition drew around 2,200 data specialists from more than 100 countries, and money from the A$250,000 pool has been awarded to seven groups, with Per-OZ taking the top A$100,000 prize.

“Globally, it’s becoming harder to find new mineral deposits, and the next generation of discoveries will need to go beyond traditional geology,” The minister added.

“The analysis of this information treasure trove by data and geoscientists in just five months is an amazing leap forward in the use of artificial intelligence, machine-learning algorithms and alternative mathematical data analysis for the mining sector.”

Unearthed Solutions has compiled all targets generated by the challenge in an interactive map on its website, which can be filtered either by the material identified or by the team that identified the target.