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USGS News: Minerals
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News about minerals from the USGS
News about minerals from the USGS

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USGS Estimates 40 Million Pounds of Potential Uranium Resources in Parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma: The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a mean of 40 million pounds of in-place uranium oxide remaining as potential undiscovered resources in the Southern High Plains region of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The uranium occurs in a type of rock formation called “calcrete,” which has been well-documented in noted uranium-producing countries like Australia and Namibia. The calcrete formations described in this assessment are the first uranium-bearing calcrete deposits reported in the United States. A calcrete outcropping near Sulfur Springs Draw in Texas. This deposit dates to the Pliocene and Pleistocene, and hosts uranium-vanadate minerals.(Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) The United States is the world’s largest consumer of uranium used in nuclear power plants, which provide approximately 19 percent of the Nation’s electricity. Substantial uranium resources are identified in the United States, yet only 11 percent of uranium purchased by civilian nuclear power reactors during 2016 was obtained from domestic sources. “Planning for long-term sustainable nuclear power in the United States requires evaluation of both identified and potential undiscovered resources,” said Tom Crafford, program coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “That’s where USGS science comes in. Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.” The areas covered in this uranium assessment.(Public domain.) The assessment focuses on a region known as the Southern High Plains, which stretch from eastern New Mexico across North Texas to western Oklahoma. The assessment area is divided into a northern and southern portion, with the southern portion estimated to contain 80 percent of the undiscovered resources. For comparison, the two known deposits, Buzzard Draw and Sulfur Springs Draw, both located in Texas, contain a combined total of 2.7 million pounds of uranium oxide. “Texas is well-known for its energy potential, from petroleum to wind to uranium,” said Walter Guidroz, program coordinator of the USGS Energy Resources Program. “In fact, in 2015, we released another assessment of uranium in South Texas, where we estimated a mean of about 5 years of U.S. uranium needs.” Intergrown Finchite and Carnotite (yellowish minerals) with Celestine (white/clear mineral). (Image courtesy of Travis Olds, University of Notre Dame) The current assessment of the Southern High Plains yielded another surprise—a new uranium mineral species. Discovered near Sulphur Springs Draw in Texas, the new mineral was named finchite, after long-time USGS uranium scientist Warren Finch (1924—2014). “This assessment was especially exciting for us, as not only did we get to discover a new species of mineral, but we also had the opportunity to honor a friend and celebrated colleague,” said USGS scientist Susan Hall, lead author of the assessment. “Dr. Finch’s long service and contributions to uranium science now live on through this new mineral, which itself has the potential to contribute to the Nation’s energy mix.” The Southern High Plains of New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. USGS conducted a uranium assessment in this region in 2015.(Public domain.) Finchite is a unique combination of strontium, uranium, vanadium, and water, and is a potential source of mineable uranium ore. Today, it is part of the Southern High Plains, a region that has drawn little attention for uranium resource potential. That may change, given the qualities of the uranium deposits. “The calcrete uranium deposits within this region have the advantage of shallow depth and soft host rock,” said USGS scientist Brad Van Gosen, co-author of the assessment. “These qualities work well for open-pit mining, assuming uranium prices and other factors are favorable.” USGS scientist Bradley Van Gosen examines rock layers for the newly discovered mineral finchite near Lamesa, Texas. Van Gosen was the first to recognize the existence of the new mineral, which was named for long-time USGS uranium geologist Warren Finch. Read more about our uranium research here. (Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) The assessment can be accessed here. Other USGS research regarding uranium potential can be found here. Stay up to date with USGS energy science by subscribing to our Newsletter or following us on Twitter. #minerals

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EarthWord–Discovery: EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word! Scientists aboard the D/S Chikyu prepare to collect a research core drilled from marine sediments in the Indian Ocean. This research is part of the 2015 Indian National Gas Hydrate Program Expedition 02 (NGHP-02), which is a follow-up to the 2006 NGHP-01.  NGHP-02 identified several large deposits of potentially producible gas hydrates in the Indian Ocean. This project was led by the Government of India, with scientists from Japan and the United States, including the U.S. Geological Survey. Read more here. (Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.) The EarthWord: Discovery Definition: This one sounds pretty self-explanatory, but it actually has a very specific meaning, at least in the field of energy and mineral resources. A “discovery” typically is an official announcement by a private company that shows an energy or mineral resource is present. For instance, in the oil and gas world, a discovery well is the first well that reveals the presence of a petroleum-bearing reservoir.  Information on new oil field discoveries is compiled and reported by the EIA. Etymology: Discovery comes from the Latin prefix dis, meaning "opposite of” and the Latin word cooperire, meaning "to cover up.” Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community: Discoveries are the primary way that companies identify that an energy or mineral resource actually exists. A discovery is not always economic (commercially favorable) to produce, and a discovery may require additional testing and study, but it is a necessary precursor to production (before it contributes to our energy and mineral supplies). USGS Use: USGS energy and mineral resources assessments are not discoveries. USGS does not explore for new energy or mineral resources, but does collect rock, core, and other samples to help better understand how these resources form and the geological occurrence of these resources on a regional scale. Examples include studies of the Eagle Ford shale and our collaborative research on gas hydrates. Instead, USGS assesses undiscovered resources, providing estimates of energy and mineral resources that we estimate to exist based on our understanding of the geology and our statistical models, and current industry practices, such as the types of technology used to develop and produce discovered resources. These estimates would have to be proven through discovery.  When USGS releases a new resource assessment, this takes into account available information from previous discoveries and and production made by industry. A McKelvey box, a diagram that shows the difference between resources and reserves. As one travels from resources to reserves, both geologic certainty and economic feasibility increase. (Public domain.) Read more about our energy resource assessments here and about our mineral resource assessments here. Next EarthWord: Our Energy Week is heating up with this next EarthWord... Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #minerals

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New Uranium Mineral Named for USGS Scientist: USGS field and laboratory studies led to just such a discovery, approved and  announced by the International Mineralogical Association – Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification with the naming of a newly discovered mineral, “finchite.” Finchite is a greenish-yellow uranium mineral that has been named after long-time USGS uranium geologist Warren Finch. A sample of finchite, a newly discovered uranium mineral. Finchite is the yellow material on the surface of the rock. Finchite is found in the late Pleistocene sediments deposited during the Illinoian glacial stage. It was first observed in Martin County, Texas. Read more about our uranium research here. (Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) A New Mineral is Unearthed The road to finchite’s discovery began, as with many newly discovered minerals, with exploration for a mine. In the late 1970s, industry identified a potentially profitable uranium deposit at Sulfur Springs Draw, a creek bed located in west Texas. After drilling nearly 700 bore holes into the deposit, the company estimated 2.1 million metric tons of uranium ore lay just below the surface. USGS scientist Bradley Van Gosen examines rock layers for the newly discovered mineral finchite near Lamesa, Texas. Van Gosen was the first to recognize the existence of the new mineral, which was named for long-time USGS uranium geologist Warren Finch. Read more about our uranium research here. (Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) Due to a trench at the prospect, USGS scientists were able to study the exposed rock layers. In 2015, USGS scientists were examining some sandstone and carbonate layers when they found a yellow-green mineral that was thought to be one of the more common uranium minerals.  However, microscopic analyses of the mineral by the USGS revealed a previously unreported assemblage of elements. Then USGS scientists joined with researchers from the University of Notre Dame to determine if it was indeed a new species of mineral. A scanning electron microscope image of the newly discovered mineral finchite. The Denver Microbeam Lab provided this scan of finchite in order to help describe and identify the mineral as a new one. Finchite is a uranium mineral first observed in Martin County, Texas. Read more about our uranium research here. (Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) After subjecting the mineral to a battery of tests, and coordinating with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to gather optical measurements and arrange to archive a sample of the mineral, the scientists determined that, indeed, the mineral was a brand new type of uranium mineral not previously recognized. Now, the only question was what to name it? USGS scientist Warren Finch.(Credit: Carol Hamer. Public domain.) Honoring a Legacy The scientists decided to name it “finchite” in honor of USGS scientist Warren Finch (1924—2014), whose career had been defined by the study of uranium and the exploration for sources of it. In fact, not only did he inaugurate a program at USGS devoted to uranium and thorium, he was recognized internationally for his expertise. For decades, Warren served the International Atomic Energy Agency as the U.S. representative and technical expert in the areas of uranium resources, uranium resource estimation, and particularly the geology of sandstone-hosted uranium deposits. He also wrote definitive studies of uranium that are still cited today. The new mineral honors Warren Finch’s long service and contributions to uranium science. In addition, it adds to our body of knowledge about how uranium minerals form and ensures that Finch’s legacy of research continues today at the USGS. Intergrown Finchite and Carnotite (yellowish minerals) with Celestine (white/clear mineral). (Credit: Travis Olds, University of Notre Dame. Image courtesy of Travis Olds, University of Notre Dame) Finchite Fast Facts: First discovered in 2015 Found near Lamesa, Texas Likely formed when dissolved components became minerals as the water evaporated Deposited during the Pleistocene, also known as the Ice Age, when mastodons and saber-toothed cats roamed North Amrica The mineral is a unique  combination of strontium, uranium, vanadium, and water The mineral is a source of fuel for nuclear reactors, which provide about 20% of the electricity we use in the US The mineral is part of a deposit in a region previously not recognized to host uranium deposits in northern Texas If mined would provide a domestic source for uranium, about 90% of which is imported to the US Read more about USGS uranium research here. #minerals

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Helicopter Study to Map Beneath Mountain Watershed Near Crested Butte: Residents in and around Crested Butte, Colorado, may see a safe, low-flying helicopter towing a hula-hoop-shaped object beginning in early October and lasting for approximately two weeks.   The airborne device, contracted by the U.S. Geological Survey through Geotech, will be collecting critical geophysical data in support of interdisciplinary geologic and hydrogeologic studies, and fly about 200 feet above the ground surface.   The USGS and partners are conducting the survey to map the uppermost part of Earth’s crust—often termed the Critical Zone—within the East River and adjacent areas near Crested Butte.   The helicopter and hoop will collect data along pre-planned flight grids within the East River and surrounding areas. A sensor that resembles a large hula-hoop will be towed beneath the helicopter to measure tiny voltages that can be used to map Earth’s subsurface. The USGS will analyze these data to characterize subsurface sediment and rock properties.   (Public domain.)   “Detailed information about subsurface geology is critically important for understanding how groundwater is transported through a watershed and how its path can impact the chemistry of streams and rivers,” said Dr. Burke Minsley, a USGS research geophysicist. “However, this type of subsurface data is difficult to obtain, especially in remote and rugged environments. This survey will provide invaluable new underground insights to depths of up to 500 feet that will contribute to an improved understanding of this region, with foundational new data at the critical watershed scale, which cannot be readily obtained by any other means.”   These data are critically important to understand where groundwater flows. This knowledge contributes to a greater regional understanding of the quality and quantity of water available throughout the headwaters of the Gunnison Basin.    This survey is being conducted in close coordination with a related U.S.  Department of Energy grant awarded to the USGS. The work is being carried out in cooperation with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area and affiliated DOE funded projects that focus on developing new understanding of mountain headwater systems.   The airborne geophysical survey data and models will be released to the public following completion of the survey. Geotech VTEM (Versatile Time Domain Electromagnetic) system being contracted by the USGS.(Public domain.)   #minerals

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Stitching Together the New Digital Geologic Quilt of the United States: Fortunately, in an effort with needlepoint detail, the U.S. Geological Survey has stitched together geologic maps of the Lower 48 States, providing a seamless quilt of 48 State geologic maps that range from 1:50,000 to 1:1,000,000 scale. The new product, called the USGS State Geologic Map Compilation, is a database compilation based on the Preliminary Integrated Geologic Map Databases for the United States. It provides a standardized Geographic Information System format that allows users to more readily conduct spatial analyses of lithology, age, and stratigraphy at a national-scale. As an example, a named rock unit (Dakota sandstone) might be called something different from State to State, on their respective State geologic maps. In the new database, rock units are characterized by their type (lithology) like "sandstone or granite" not by their formal name. This consistency across the single database now makes it easier for users to access information, rather than having to collect it from multiple databases. One Database, Many Users The shale oil boom: how much oil is really there? Critical minerals: does the United States have what it needs for your smartphone, air conditioner and car, let alone our military? Earthquakes and volcanoes: which hazards do we face? All these questions are addressed with geologic maps! Geologic information forms the bedrock of much of the work USGS does. On the traditional geologic research side, these data will inform assessments of energy and mineral resources, quantifying volcano and earthquake hazards, and mitigation of potential environmental effects from mining. However, high-quality geologic maps and their underlying databases extend beyond the obvious links. Tracking groundwater—an important source of drinking water and irrigation to millions in the United States—requires accurate data about rock formations and faults (the groundwater’s plumbing, as it were). In addition, understanding the nature of geologic formations can assist with infrastructure development, such as where to put dams and bridges, as well as agricultural planning. Finally, a national digital geologic map database is vital to those who use other national-scale datasets, such as geochemistry, remote sensing, and geophysical data. Trying to match a national-scale dataset with a dataset of just Mississippi, for instance, would open the door to confusion, mistakes, and some serious Delta blues. (Public domain.) New Maps, New Data, and Easier to Use The State Geologic Map Compilation includes the following seven new State geologic maps that have been released since the original Preliminary Integrated Geologic Map Databases were published: Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, and Vermont. The State Geologic Map Compilation also incorporates new supplemental data for the States of California, Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and North Carolina. In addition, the surface geologic maps for North Dakota and South Dakota have been replaced with updated bedrock geologic maps. We corrected numerous errors and added enhancements to the preliminary datasets using thorough quality assurance/quality control procedures. We ensured attributes adhered to data dictionaries created for the compilation process and corrected spatial and topological errors. Also, we have standardized the geologic data contained in each State geologic map to allow spatial analyses of lithology, age, and stratigraphy at a national scale.   The changes make the data more consistent between the States as well as with the original State geologic maps. It also streamlines tasks that previously required combining multiple geographic information system datasets and tables. Stitching the Pieces Together This new product is like a quilt, with a top layer that is pieced together from many pieces of cloth and a single piece of cloth underneath that forms the backing. In our analogy, the top layer is a GIS map layer that stitches together individual state geologic maps to form a national map, and the bottom layer (or backing) is a single consistently formatted database that means each of the pieces on top have the same structure underpinning them. Now that a newly updated, single database (backing) is holding all the information, multiple individual pieces can be viewed and queried as a whole. Prior to the State Geologic Map Compilation, we had standardized individual GIS databases for each state, but none of them were connected. Anytime someone wanted to do national or regional scale work, they had to go to multiple databases, then piece what they wanted together.  The improvements to this updated version create a single, conterminous State geologic map database. (Public domain.) Putting Geology on the Map For the visual learners out there, map services of the State Geologic Map Compilation data have been created which can be used in numerous web mapping applications including the USGS National Map. This allows the data to be explored without specialized geographic information systems software.  To use it, go here, then use the “Add Data” button on most web mapping applications to access the data in web browsers. The State Geologic Map Compilation map service has also been added to the National Map of Surficial Mineralogy web mapping application [Layers List - "Lithology (State Geologic Maps)" and "Geologic Structure (State Geologic Maps)"]. Users can explore the data along with the other layers including remote sensing (ASTER and Landsat7), various mineral deposits data, and numerous types of basemap data. Out of Many, One...Database, That Is Just as quilts are rarely the work of a single needle, this mosaic of geologic maps and data was sewn by many hands. The State Geologic Map Compilation of the Conterminous United States was developed by the USGS Mineral Resources Program. The project owes its success to numerous USGS Mineral Resources Program staff who originally compiled the Preliminary Integrated Geologic Map Databases for the United States as well as the foundational geologic mapping work completed by U.S. State Geologic Surveys and academia.  Special thanks to the Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology for their tremendous work in preparing the Geologic Map of Montana to be included in the State Geologic Map Compilation. (Public domain.) What’s Next? As mentioned previously, one limitation of the State Geologic Map Compilation is that geologic units haven’t been integrated across state boundaries. That means that, in some locations, a geologic formation that spans the border of, say, Colorado and Kansas might be represented by polygons with different names in Colorado and Kansas. We preserve what the States named each rock unit, then we use a standardized rock coding to show what kind of rock the unit is, regardless of what it is named. So now, for instance, if you wanted, you could look for every shale formation in the Lower 48 that was the same age as the oil-rich Bakken Formation of North Dakota and Montana. A long-term goal of the USGS is eventually to have a fully integrated geologic map at useful scales of the entire country. That map and its underlying databases would be invaluable to Federal, State, and local government, as well as private companies and academia. It would greatly enhance studies of mineral resources, groundwater resources, geologic natural hazards, and aspects of environmental health, as well as agricultural and infrastructure planning. It is no exaggeration to say it could serve as the foundation for a renaissance in Earth science in the United States. #minerals

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Upcoming Low-Level Flights in Oklahoma to Image Unmapped Faults and Underground Geology: Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey are teaming up to better understand the location of deep faults and subsurface geology via airborne technology.   USGS and OGS are contracting Goldak Airborne Surveys to conduct surveys that will fly over 18 counties in the southwestern and north-central part of the state. The goal is to capture 3-D images of geology beneath the Earth’s surface for earthquake hazard and mineral resources.   Weather permitting, the surveys will take approximately 6-10 weeks to complete. Operations will be based out of Altus, Oklahoma.   1:750,000, 1 sheet.(Public domain.) A media availability will occur on August 14 at 1:30 p.m. in Altus, and on August 15 at 1:30 p.m. in Norman. Monday, August 14, Altus: View the planes and technology that will be used for the surveys. USGS scientist Dr. Anji Shah will be available for interview. Where: Altus Quartz Mt. Regional Airport, 5605 N Main St, Altus, OK 73521 When: 1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.   Tuesday, August 15, Norman: Dr. Shah and Dr. Jeremy Boak, Director, Oklahoma Geological Survey, will be available to discuss the project and provide interviews. Where: University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geological Survey, 100 East Boyd Street, Suite N131, Norman, Oklahoma 73019 When: 12 p.m.   PLEASE CONTACT Heidi Koontz, 720-320-1246 or hkoontz@usgs.gov, if you plan to attend or send crews either event.   “Oklahoma has been experiencing increased seismicity since about 2009. Many of these earthquakes occur on faults that haven’t been mapped,” said USGS scientist and project lead Dr. Anji Shah. “In order to better understand local seismic hazards, the USGS and OGS will use the new data to work towards improved fault maps.”   Instruments on the airplane will measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field created by different rock types up to several miles beneath the surface. The magnetic field maps will help with imaging faults as well as intrusions, which are rocks formed by ancient volcanic eruptions that never reached the surface. The scientific instruments on the airplane are completely passive, with no emissions that pose a risk to humans, animals, or plant life.   Survey areas will include parts of Alfalfa, Beckham, Comanche, Greer, Harmon, Kiowa, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Major, Noble, Pawnee, Payne, Pottawatomie, Stephens, Tillman, Woods and Woodward counties. Map of Oklahoma low-level flight airborne survey areas, along with previous earthquakes and existing faults. Earthquakes are from the NEIC, faults from OGS, full reference for faults is Northcutt, R. A., and J. A. Campbell (1995), Geologic provinces of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geol. Surv. Open File Rep., 5-95, scale   (Credit: Bill Heath, Goldak Airborne Surveys. Public domain.) #minerals

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USGS Assesses Billions of Potential Potash Resources in Ukraine: The term “potash” refers to potassium-bearing, water-soluble salts like potassium chloride derived from evaporite basins, where seawater evaporated and precipitated various salt compounds. In 2010, world potash production was about 33 million metric tons, mostly for use in fertilizers. Potash resources are often expressed in terms of the amount of potassium oxide (K2O) that can be obtained from the potassium-bearing salt. For instance, the 4.3 billion tons of potassium-bearing salt in the Dnieper-Donets Basin is the equivalent of 840 million tons K2O, while the 80–200 billion metric tons of potassium-bearing salt in the Pripyat Basin could contain 15-30 billion metric tons of K2O. Canada was the largest producer of potash (9.5 million metric tons in 2010), followed by Russia, Belarus, China, Germany, Israel and Jordan. Potash is produced in many countries throughout the world, but production is concentrated in North America and Eurasia. Each of the 12 major potash-producing countries produced 1 million metric ton or more in 2010; production from other countries was less than 1 million metric ton each. A map showing the assessed areas in Bgelarus and Ukraine. (Public domain.) The Pripyat Basin in Belarus is currently the third largest global producer of potassium-bearing salts, and published reserves in the Pripyat Basin are about 7.3 billion metric tons of potassium-bearing salt (or about 1.3 to 1.4 billion metric tons of K2O). Published potash resources in the Pripyat Basin are estimated to depths of about 1,200 meters. Potash mining began in the Pripyat Basin in 1963 and continues to the present day. In 2012, six conventional underground mines produced 4.04 million metric tons of potash (as K2O) from four potash horizons. In this report, additional undiscovered resources in the Pripyat Basin that could be recovered at depths to 3,000 meters from up to 60 potash-bearing horizons were estimated to be in the range of 80–200 billion metric tons of potassium-bearing salt and could contain 15 to 30 billion metric tons of K2O. Recovery of these deeper resources is possible by solution methods aided by high geothermal temperatures. The probabilistic assessment examined 248 salt structures in the Dnieper-Donets Basin and found that as many as 11 potash-bearing salt deposits may be present. As part of the assessment, the Pripyat and Dnieper-Donets Basins were subdivided into four tracts, also known as permissive areas, for evaluation: the stratabound Famennian age salt of the Pripyat tract in the Pripyat Basin, the stratabound Famennian age salt of the Dnieper-Donets tract in the northwestern part of the Dnieper-Donets Basin, the Famennian age salt in halokinetic structures in the Dnieper-Donets tract, and stratabound Cisuralian age salt of the Dnieper-Donets tract. The halokinetic Dnieper-Donets tract was quantitatively assessed using the USGS three-part assessment methodology. The other tracts, which contained varying amounts of publically accessible geologic data, were only qualitatively assessed. Although salt (as halite), probably from Cisuralian strata, is being recovered from five conventional underground mines in the Dnieper-Donets Basin, potash production is not recorded. Published potash resources were estimated to be 794 million metric tons of potassium-bearing salt (or the equivalent of 50 to 150 million metric tons of K2O) in one of the eleven Cisuralian subbasins of the Dnieper-Donets Basin. Additional undiscovered resources may be present in the other subbasins. This report provides an updated and expanded compilation and interpretation of the geology and extent of known potash occurrences and deposits in the Pripyat and Dnieper-Donets Basins, most of which was derived from older Russian language scientific literature. A geodatabase of the located geologic data and mines accompanies this report. The assessment can be found here. The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. To keep up-to-date on USGS mineral research, follow us on Twitter! #minerals

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Rich, Attractive, and Extremely Shallow: So how do you find a potential mineral deposit when it’s buried underground? Perhaps it's a geo-physical attraction... Just as someone's personality characteristics might be attractive, certain geophysical characteristics are appealing to scientists searching for potential mineral deposits. USGS scientists are using geophysical characteristics and techniques to map the geology of large areas in the middle part of the U.S. This vast area, spanning from the Great Lakes to the gulf coast States, has the potential to host iron deposits. Map showing large part of the United States referred to as the southern mid-continent region. (Public domain.) Looking beyond the surface... The majority of rocks that host the iron mineralization are buried under meters to kilometers of sedimentary rock. This means we can't see how deep the mineralization is or if it even exists; its true nature is concealed. Scientists approach this problem using geophysical techniques to help "see" below the surface and uncover the underlying geology. Iron deposits are great geophysical targets for magnetic and gravity surveying because they are typically magnetic and dense; both properties are associated with the increased amount of iron minerals in the rocks. Rocks with high density change the local pull of gravity enough to be sensed by a gravimeter. Importantly, these types of deposits can be also very rich in other significant metals such as copper, gold, and rare earth elements.  Some of the most important strategic deposits provide valuable metals that are essential for domestic and high technology and military industries. These critical metal deposits include iron-oxide-copper-gold, igneous rare earth element, and platinum group element ore bodies. The iron deposits in southeast Missouri originated from magmas that formed in the mantle over 1.4 billion years ago. Using regional magnetic and gravity data, we are studying how the magmas that produced the rocks that host the deposits traveled from the mantle upward to the shallow crust where we see them today. We are modeling the data to image, in 3-D, the earth’s crust across depths that go from the surface to as deep as 30 to 45 kilometers.   Gravity, magnetic, and integrated analysis maps of the St. Francois Mountain terrane of the Mid-Continent of the United States. (Public domain.) Did you say Mr. Terrific or magnetotelluric? No successful relationships are one-sided. Likewise, we have many partners that have helped gather and collect data. Earthscope, a program of the National Science Foundation that has deployed thousands of geophysical instruments, allows us to map the earth’s subsurface electrical conductivity using magnetotelluric data. Magnetotellurics (MT) is a geophysical technique that images resistivity, or how well rocks conduct electricity, on depth scales ranging from hundreds of meters to hundreds of kilometers. MT is an electromagnetic method in which naturally-occurring electromagnetic signals induce tiny electrical currents in the Earth, similar to how an induction stove induces currents in a pot in order to heat it. A cross-section of the Earth, showing the sub-surface layers that are being mapped. (Public domain.) What’s our contribution to this relationship? Along with the magnetic and gravity data, the MT data provide one more geophysical characteristic that helps reveal the subsurface geology. This type of data doesn’t cover the entire U.S., so, as part of our project, the USGS is collecting new MT data to fill in missing areas. Stakeholders such as mining industry and academia are interested in large scale data from our projects because of their wide uses. The kinds of geophysical data we collect and use contribute to mapping the architecture of Earth’s crust. In our research, these data are important to map deep crustal and mantle structures that may control where mineral deposits form. Side-by-side comparisons of magnetic and density models across iron oxide deposits in the Mid-Continent region of the United States. (Public domain.) After the Honeymoon Just like with all relationships, it’s good to have a plan for the long-term. We are leveraging these data, along with state-of-the art in-house 3D modeling approaches, to better understand the deep plumbing of these important critical metal ore systems.   Ultimately, our goals are twofold. First, to advance the current understanding of North America’s tectonic evolution. Second, to improve our understanding of how heat, magma, and fluids interact at shallow and sometimes great depths in order to form large mineralized systems. Our work can be used to define prospective critical mineral deposits in the southern mid-continent of the United States. Read more about this project here. Stay up-to-date with our other attractive projects by following us on Twitter. #minerals

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Slag-What is it Good for?: But some recent research here at USGS might change slag’s poor public image. It turns out that, although slag is most known for being what’s left when metals have been removed, slag itself might be good at removing some negative chemicals from the environment. Pile of steelmaking slag at the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steelmaking facility, Indiana. Photograph by Nadine Piatak, USGS. (Public domain.) Environmental Antacids Sometimes hard rock mining can give the environment a bit of excess acid, in the form of acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage can happen when air and water mingle with various minerals such as iron sulfide (also known as pyrite or Fool’s Gold), creating sulfuric acid. The acid then dissolves other metals and can contaminate drinking water, disrupt the growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and animals, and even corrode parts of infrastructures such as bridges. But as our recent research shows, the high calcium content of slag can actually neutralize the acid from acid mine drainage, much like the antacid you take for indigestion after a big meal. Not only that, but it can even reduce acids that have built up in soils. We looked specifically at ferrous slag, the leftover material from the smelting of iron and steel, in the Chicago-Gary area of Illinois and Indiana. Ferrous slag is currently underutilized. Although the construction industry does use some slag as an aggregate, most is simply discarded. However, slag could be used to treat acid soils or acid mine drainage. Doing so would both offset the cost of restoring abandoned mine areas, as well as decrease steel manufacturers’ current waste footprint. Orange, iron-rich precipitate (ochre) from outflow of Lead Queen mine tunnel, after late September 2014 monsoon storm. Photo by Glen E. "Gooch" Goodwin, Photographer - used with permission. (Copyright Glen E. "Gooch" Goodwin, Used with Permission) Too Much of a Good Thing Another issue that slag can address in the Chicago-Gary area is too much phosphate in the water. Phosphate is an important nutrient for plants and is a key ingredient in most fertilizers. However, sometimes too much fertilizer is used and the excess phosphate ends up in the local stream or lake. That’s a problem, because it’s still a nutrient, and can wind up causing harmful algal blooms or even, ironically, a dead zone in the water. So how can slag help? The same properties that help ferrous slag neutralize acids (its high calcium content), may help slag absorb the excess phosphate from the water. With excess phosphate in water being a significant issue in the Chicago-Gary area, this benefit from slag could be another use for the material and could decrease the need to mine new natural materials for water treatment applications. Start with Science USGS minerals research helps policymakers and resource managers understand not just the size and locations of our mineral resources, but how to sustainably develop them and alternative uses for them. Learn more about this project here. #minerals

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Bringing Science to Bear at the Cinnabar Mine: Download this videoLength: 210JoAnn Holloway, biogeochemist with the USGS Mineral Resources Program, explains how interdisciplinary science can help better inform the conditions of a complex ecosystem. Videographer: Jacob Massey, USGS (Public domain.) Mining activity in the 19th to 20th century was one of the drivers of western expansion in the United States. However, as those mines played out and miners moved on, the mines themselves remained. In fact, the Bureau of Land Management estimates up to a half-million abandoned mine lands exist in the United States.  Of these, the Government Accountability Office estimates 131,000 are abandoned hardrock, or base metal (e.g., gold, silver, copper) mines in the western United States, with approximately 33,000 sites resulting in the degradation of environmental quality.  Few of these sites have been evaluated to determine potential for continued environmental impacts, or exacerbated environmental impacts resulting from shifting land-use, including urbanization, road construction, or a resurgence in mining.  Evaluating environmental impacts of abandoned hardrock mines is most effective if conducted using teams of multi-disciplinary scientists, including hydrologists, geologists, geochemists, and ecologists.  Mine tailings from the abandoned Cinnabar Mine in Idaho.(Credit: JoAnn Holloway, USGS. Public domain.) The East Fork South Fork Salmon River watershed in central Idaho is at the headwaters of the South Fork Salmon River, a spawning area for Chinook Salmon, and part of Nez Perce Tribe ceded lands.  Cinnabar Creek, a tributary to this stream, flows through the Cinnabar mine site, an inactive mercury mining site.  This site is being evaluated for remediation by the U.S. EPA due to elevated metal concentrations, including  mercury and arsenic, associated with mine tailings, sediment and water.  An interdisciplinary team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists are evaluating the Cinnabar mine site and the East Fork South Fork Salmon River watershed to quantify environmental impacts.  A geological background for mercury and arsenic has been established using rock, stream sediment and water chemistry outside of the historical mining area.  Transportation of rock from mine tailings to downstream sediments s being evaluated using a combination of geochemistry and mercury isotopes.  Mercury and arsenic transfer from the stream to the biota is being evaluated by ecologists who study insects, spiders and fish.  The Cinnabar Creek watershed in Idaho. The region is an important spawning area for Chinook Salmon, and part of Nez Perce Tribe ceded lands.(Credit: JoAnn Holloway, USGS. Public domain.) This work is being conducted in cooperation with the Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries Resources Program, the U.S.D.A. Payette National Forest, the U.S. EPA, with site access being provided by Midas Gold Corporation.  Our data and our interpretations are being used to help inform a better-informed effort towards remediating the Cinnabar Mine site, with the goal of improving the quality of this salmon fishery.  Learn more about this project here, and learn more about other USGS minerals research in the Yellowpine area here. #minerals
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