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Female Leaders at Polyus: Yulia Daryina, Chief Geologist at Verninskoye

10 April 2019
Female Leaders at Polyus: Yulia Daryina, Chief Geologist at Verninskoye

Of the many stereotypes about geologists, the most common is that this is a male job. Yulia Daryina, Chief Geologist at Verninskoye, one of Polyus’ production assets, is a good example of breaking the mould.

Lover of salami and a complete workaholic

— Yulia, where does gold come from?

— Many people are curious about the origin of gold on the Earth. Gold is definitely a mysterious metal. Scientists are continuing with their convergence-divergence debate as new evidence emerges. According to one theory, the matter produced from the collisions of neutron stars is thrown into space, where it cools and triggers a series of nuclear reactions. The matter then spreads across space to help create new astronomical objects. Like other heavy metals, gold is formed right at the Earth’s inner core, with some of its particles remaining in the mantle. This theory is most popular among researchers. Another theory, although also space-related, is a bit different. It states that meteorites delivered gold to the Earth when it was not quite formed. This explains why gold is concentrated in deposits and not distributed evenly over the planet’s crust. There is also a biological hypothesis that bacteria contributed to gold formation. Gold is found in rivers, the sea, soil and plants.

— Is it true that the job of a geologist goes well beyond the deposit discovery?

— It is indeed. Geologists possess specific knowledge of gold grades, its subsoil distribution and the lithology of host rock and ores. We are responsible for blending the ore fed to a mill, which is essential for meeting technological parameters. We work with tiny particles of gold, which are invisible to the naked eye. These are recovered and made into bullions via complex technology and chemical processes. In our case it is doré gold.

— Do geologists suffer from their own Gold Fever?

— Oh yes, we do. An ambitious professional is always on the lookout for a valuable discovery. But you need to be very well-educated for that. The 1990s saw some stagnation in the Russian geological field as there was very little investment into exploration activities. So for around 10-15 years the job was not very sought-after. Times have changed. Nowadays, it is a geologist’s mission to make sure a company has sufficient reserves in the long-term. That is why those of us who are engaged in the discovery and exploration of gold deposits are unique professionals, with broad expertise in geophysics, geochemistry and exploration methods. Having a comprehensive view of the exploration process helps us to evaluate the potential of unexplored areas.

For example, ever since the mid-1900s, the Lena gold province has been famous for its rich alluvials deposit. As it turns out, the province boasts large hard rock gold deposits as well. Take Sukhoi Log, for instance. The deposit was discovered in the 1960s using geological study rather than the direct exploration methods that were conventional at the time, as this is an entirely blind sulphide gold ore deposit with no surface outcrop. It was not until the first exploration wells were drilled to penetrate gold-bearing sulphide minerals that the geologists could confirm their estimates. This gave way to full-scale exploration to discover similar gold ore deposits in the area. Russia has always had strong geological traditions. Confirmation of explored reserves during the deposit development serves as a quality mark for our work.

My career began at the Nezhdaninskoye deposit in Yakutia, which, as it happens, was discovered by a woman. I started as a geological engineer and became chief geologist in just eighteen months. For this I am grateful to Valery Slezko and Grigory Ivanov, who were my mentors as we were exploring and measuring reserves. The late Valery Slezko taught me to work hard and advised me to study concentration technology and mining processes in addition to geology. It was him who added a funny “weakness” to my СV: “Lover of salami and a complete workaholic.” I was used to working from 7 am till 3 am the next day. A wide range of knowledge and skills came in very handy in my job.

My second degree is in Hydrogeological Engineering, specialising in Geological Environment Protection. Geologists focus on boosting production efficiency and industrial safety. We should encourage the sustainable development of mineral resources by using the most advanced geological methods and the latest scientific achievements and technologies. Those who can sense gold can succeed.

— Your opinion is highly valued at technical meetings as you are widely believed to have a keen geological intuition.

— I think this is slightly overstated (smiles). It is important to have good analytical skills to help you estimate the potential and prospects of the explored area. It is crucial to thoroughly study the region where the deposit was discovered, its structure and ore occurrence elements, along with geochemical and geophysical findings, before creating an exploration model to apply to a particular unexplored area.

Gold is usually found using indirect exploration methods.

This is why geologists are needed right from the start of all mining activities, and are crucial for achieving targets. To this end, they use applied software to develop geological models populated with data on qualitative properties of mineral resources, tectonic disturbances, occurrence of rocks and ore bodies, etc. The model is then used to plan mining works. Today’s technologies enable the online monitoring of ore movement from the pit, measuring gold grade and checking if reserves were fully and properly excavated.

— Are you continuing with exploration works?

— Yes, we are. We have a strong team of exploration geologists, of varying age and experience. There is no such thing as two completely alike deposits, so each time we need to take into account a host of different factors and essentially conduct a new study. Apart from assessing the qualitative properties of mineral resources, it is important to provide a correct economic estimate in terms of reserves recoverability. This requires knowledge of hydrogeology, geomechanics and technology, as well as teamwork.

— Do you consider your job hazardous? How do you deal with risks?

— I pay a lot of attention to health and safety, and seek to increase my colleagues’ awareness on the matter. For example, imagine a more than ten-meter high pile of blasted rock, which needs to be sampled. I tell them to make sure they don’t stand with their backs to the rock face, since a single tiny sliding rock may be a sign of instability and a more massive fall coming. In this way, I show others how to take samples safely. Geologists are well-equipped with personal protective equipment, which includes protective clothing and footwear, goggles and helmets. We need to move around the pit along special routes and keep our hands out of pockets. There is a risk of rock falling from passing trucks. All these rules are set out in safety guidelines. Young graduates who do not yet have hands-on experience of working on-site tend to be a little less careful, so I make sure to give them advice and teach them safe working methods. We also discuss potential risks and how to mitigate these. We place strong emphasis on both on safety culture and performance efficiency. I think that acting as a role model really helps.

— You followed in the footsteps of your uncle, who was also a geologist. They say he had a rich collection of minerals...

— His family did, yes. I used to stay with them when I was in high school, and other students would sometimes come visit. They asked about the mineral collection, and I became curious myself about what it was I was showing them.

Both my teachers and I thought I might become a maths or physics teacher, since those subjects came easily to me. However, at our leavers’ prom, we drew pictures of how we imagined our future selves, and I drew myself in the mountains, wielding a rock hammer. I ended up enrolling in Sverdlovsk Mining Institute.

Like my uncle, I took to collecting samples, and have already built up quite a collection.

I once did a stint as a chief geologist mining hard rock gold in an underground tunnel. It was a dangerous environment, and for many it was unfathomable that a woman was working there. However, I believe that women are more in tune with their intuition and our natural survival instincts, which helped both me and others when I was able to get them out of harm’s way.

Nature is like a living organism that we are intruding upon, so we must take care of it. Nature is also like an artist that creates beauty all around us — we just need to keep our eyes peeled and hearts open. You can see it in the crystals of ice that form in underground mines, or in the sun that rises and sets in the mountains. When I began working in the Bodaybo District, I was anxious to know whether there were mountains there. Thankfully, there were.

— Is the future you drew for yourself at the prom everything you wanted it to be (and more)?

— It is. I am fine with travelling frequently. My mathematical way of thinking is also useful, as I take a strictly practical approach to both food and logistics in my travels. I know exactly what to pack to stay within a limit of 35 kilos. To procure samples I have paddled a kayak and flown a helicopter, among other things. But I always made sure to keep my bear deterrent handy — I am still terrified of them.