Worldwide gold exploration budgets targeting and defining new discoveries — grassroots plus 75% of late-stage — have surged since 1999 to a record high of more than $6 billion last year, according to a new study by consulting firm SNL Metals Economics Group.

In Strategies for Gold Reserves Replacement 2013–Update, SNL reports that, while it’s too early to judge recent exploration successes, 1990-2012 statistics show total major discoveries fell short of replacing global gold production — particularly in the past 15 years; a major discovery takes at least three years, representing 2 million gold oz.

Consequently from 1998 to 2012, according to SNL data, explorers discovered 107 major deposits, averaging 7.5 million oz each, in 36 different countries. These added 800.8 million gold oz to global reserves and resources — or 56% of the 1.2 billion gold oz produced during the period, following conversion of resources to reserves and recovery losses.

In regional breakdowns, 23% of the discoveries were in North America at a discovery-oriented exploration cost of $49/oz; 21% in Latin America at $49/oz; 19% in Africa at $33/oz; 10% in Europe at $13/oz; and 8% in Australia at $61/oz. Greenfields discoveries accounted for 67% of gold discoveries.