LMEWEEK-Australia's Oz Minerals taps data crowdsourcing to target riches

* Miner turns to data scientists for exploration clues

* Entrants from over 60 countries in crowdsourcing challenge

* Top teams have have won ongoing exploration work

MELBOURNE, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Copper miner Oz Minerals will start drilling this quarter at an Australian exploration site, basing its programme on a crowdsourcing campaign that offered up project data and a A$1 million ($688,000) prize pool.

The three-month experiment was designed to attract fresh insight on where the richest ore bodies might lie, and the winners, announced in June, included several teams of data scientists, engineers and even a pilot.

“These are some very smart people from all sort of backgrounds, atypical backgrounds for the mining industry,” Oz Minerals Chief Executive Andrew Cole said.

“Some of those groups have come up with very different, quite remarkable ways of thinking and interpreting data.”

The trial has allowed Oz Minerals to tap talent in an industry that in recent years has struggled to compete with hip start ups and big tech in Silicon Valley, London or New York.

Enrolments in mining engineering courses across Australia fell to roughly 30 last year from more than 250 during the last boom a half decade ago.

The crowdsourcing experiment for its Mount Woods exploration project, close to its flagship Prominent Hill copper-gold mine, attracted submissions across more than 60 countries, with the top three teams based in Australia and Singapore.

Some of the teams have gone on to form companies and won ongoing work with the miner, while drill results at Mount Woods based on the winning models to be live-streamed back to participating teams.

Oz Minerals, which has exploration projects in Australia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Sweden, has now supplied teams with data from some of these projects.

The move comes as miners in Australia, where easy to find deposits have already been mapped out, increasingly turn to big data to determine what lies “under cover” - the 80 percent of the country that lies obscured by metres of sediment and sand in the desert interior, an area twice the size of India.

Australian exploration know-how is being exported to other countries including the United States.

Flush with the success of the crowdsourcing campaign, Oz Minerals is also tapping employees to come up with fresh ideas to improve working conditions, another impediment for potential workers.

“We have already been running some technical crowdsourcing programs. There’s a couple of other partners around flexible work at Prominent Hill. One of our aspirations... is to make it a truly flexible working environment,” Cole said.

Oz Minerals expects to produce around 103,000-115,000 tonnes of copper this year and 123,400-136,800 tonnes of gold. First production is expected from its next growth project, Carrapateena this quarter. ($1 = 1.4537 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Richard Pullin)