opal seam - opal prospecting and mining
opal seam - opal prospecting and mining

Opal Prospecting and Mining


Headed out to the opal fields? Read on to learn more about opal prospecting and mining, plus some expert tips for finding precious opal beneath your feet.

5 Minute Read

Finding an Opal Field

Of course, the first step in prospecting for opals is to find an area with geological conditions that favor opal formation.

In Australia, most opal occurs in clay layers underneath sandstone. However, in other parts of the world, opal is associated with volcanic rock. The silica-rich geothermal fluids that flow in volcanic areas can often produce opal. In Ethiopia and Nevada, opals occur at the transition between layers of sediment and volcanic rock. In contrast, opal from Mexico and Oregon forms in gas bubbles in ancient lava flows.

Although opal occurs frequently in volcanic areas, finding opal with precious play of color takes some luck.

Opal Prospecting Methods

Once you find an opal field, you need to know where to open a mine. Typically, this means digging a hole to the opal-bearing strata and searching for the gem in this layer. If there’s no opal, you can move on to the next hole without too much cost. However, new geophysical techniques can show you exactly where to dig (but will cost more initially).

In this video, Sebastian shares his experiences prospecting for opals in Lightning Ridge, Australia. Video © Black Opal Direct. Used ...


Addison Rice

A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison’s interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth’s geological processes began in her elementary school’s environmental club. When she isn’t writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.

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