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Drilling in a World Heritage Site

The ICDP-Project BASE investigated Archean Surface Environments by coring the ca. 3220 Ma Moodies Group of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa, Oct. 2021 – August 2022. This unit represents some of the oldest shallow-water and terrestrial siliciclastic strata worldwide; it contains fossil microbial life. Because the BGB had repeatedly seen intensive gold exploration and features several active gold mines along its northern margin, the eight BASE drill sites, largely located within the 2018 declared Barberton-Makhonjwa Mountains WHS, had to counter initial suspicion that they masked a gold exploration project, largely controlled by foreign interests. We obtained goodwill, interest, and permits from the local population and from local, regional, and national government, respectively, and ensured safe and incident-free drilling operations by designing and executing a multi-faceted approach: Prior to project start, we contributed regularly to local and regional newspapers, had the planning workshop extensively covered by media, and cultivated contacts with stakeholders and local property owners. The Education/Outreach/Publication program employed a Barbertonian geologist full time to work with traditional government, radio stations, TV, schools, and institutions of higher learning. We set aside half of our core processing space in downtown Barberton as an exhibition area, trained all staff as tour guides, maintained an open-door policy, and encouraged visitors to observe us as we processed core. Delegations, school classes, and associations could inform themselves first-hand on the core retrieval process on field trips to drill sites. After operations, BASE added a room to the local museum dedicated to WHS geoscience research.


Nonkululeko Phumelele Mashele1, Christoph Heubeck2, BASE Onsite Geoscience Team2, Astrid Christianson3
1University of Johannesburg, South Africa; 2Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena, Germany; 3Barberton Community Tourism, South Africa
GeoBerlin 2023