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Assessing the world's undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources: A cooperative international project

by Klaus Schulz and Judy Back

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is conducting a cooperative international project to assess the world's undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources. The Global Mineral Resource Assessment Project (GMRAP) is a research project that will develop and test methods of assessing the undiscovered mineral resources of the terrestrial earth. The primary objectives of the project are to outline the principal areas in the world that have potential for selected undiscovered mineral resources and to estimate the probable amounts of those mineral resources to a depth of 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) below the earth's surface. The project will initially undertake global assessments of copper, platinum-group metals, and potassium (or potash) resources. Subsequent assessments will consider lead, zinc, nickel, gold, and phosphorous (or phosphate).

Why are we doing this?

In today's global economy, a nation's economic security depends on its access to adequate mineral resource supplies from a variety of domestic and international sources. Although no global shortages of nonfuel mineral resources are expected in the near future, the growing demand for and utilization of mineral resources require continued exploration and development of as-yet undiscovered mineral deposits. However, the ability to find and develop new mineral resources is increasingly impacted by competing land uses and values, concerns about the environmental effects of mining, and the world's growing population.

Informed planning and decisions concerning sustainable resource development require a long-term global perspective and an integrated approach to land-use, resource, and environmental management. To achieve this end, we need to understand what mineral resources we have; how and where they occur, and how development in various areas may impact other resources, such as biological diversity, air, water, and land. The results of global mineral resource assessments will provide a regional and global context for viewing the nation's mineral-resource base, help plan new mineral exploration and sustainable resource development, and aid regional resource, land-use, and environmental planning.

Today, more than 70 chemical elements and dozens of minerals are mined and produced from more than 100 different deposit types and geologic environments. Because of the large number of commodities and related deposit types and the time and effort required to compile the information necessary for assessing undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources, the project will begin by assessing a selected subset of commodities and their most significant deposit types for world minerals supply. We have chosen copper, platinum-group elements, and potassium as the first commodities to be assessed for a variety of reasons.

Copper: Copper was chosen because of its global economic importance and because we have relatively good knowledge of its global distribution and how and where copper deposits form. Copper is important in electronics as well as in other industrial and residential applications. The assessment will focus on porphry copper and sediment-hosted copper deposits, which account for about 80 percent of worldwide copper production (Singer, 1995).

Platinum-group elements: Platinum-group elements include platinum, palladium, iridium, osmium, rhodium, and ruthenium. They were chosen because their supply is limited and because they are of increasing economic and environmental importance. These metals have excellent catalytic and high-temperature properties, are resistant to chemical attack, and have stable electrical properties. They are used in automobile catalytic converters, as catalysts to make fertilizers, explosives, and nitric acid, and in various refining and production phases of the petroleum and petrochemical industries. They are also important in the development of fuel cell technology.

Potash: The term potash represents a variety of potassium-bearing salts in which potassium is water soluble (Searls, 2001). Potash, fixed nitrogen, and soluble phosphorous are considered to be primary plant nutrients that are essential in maintaining and expanding food production. Potash was chosen as one of the first commodities for this assessment because of its agricultural importance. The United States imports approximately 80 percent of the potash it uses (Searls, 2001). Deposits occur in a few geologically well known evaporite environments. Extensive data sets are available from these areas.

Objectives

The Global Mineral Resource Assessment Project will:

  • Provide a consistent, comprehensive level of information and analysis of global nonfuel mineral resources based on the most up-to-date information available.
  • Develop and improve methods for conducting large-region assessments.
  • Develop new models and predictive tools for the analysis and application of global mineral resource assessment results to issues of sustainable resource development and environmental management.
  • Advance understanding of the origin and evolution of mineralizing systems through integrated metallogenic and tectonic analyses.
  • Advance international cooperation between government, nongovernmental organizations, and industry through the organization and sponsorship of various workshops, trade, and scientific and technical exchanges.

How are we doing this?

We began the assessment project this year after a three-year feasibility study that included conducting workshops relating to mineral resource assessment in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and China and conducting a preliminary assessment of porphyry copper deposits of part of the Andes Mountains.

We have divided the work by commodity type and geographical regions (fig. 1). Each region and commodity type has a USGS coordinator (see below for listing) who will be working with a team of scientists from the USGS and other cooperating agencies and organizations. The initial priority is on formalizing USGS cooperative relationships with other countries and multinational organizations in each of the regions and working with these entities to compile existing geologic, mineral occurrence, and exploration history data and current supply-demand status for the commodities of interest.

Generalized map of earth indicating regions and lead scientist for each region.  Information is also found below in text.
Figure 1 - Geographic regions and corresponding USGS lead scientists

Status

We have established cooperative working agreements with:

  • China Geological Survey (http://www.cgs.gov.cn/cgs_Ev.htm)
  • Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia (http://www.ccop.or.th/), a regional organization representing national geological surveys of East and Southeast Asia
  • Center for Russian and Central Asian Mineral Studies (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/mineralogy/cercams/)
  • University of Arizona

Agreements are pending with:

  • Association of Ibero American Geological Surveys - organization of national geological surveys of South America
  • Bureau de Recherches Geologiques et Minieres (http://www.brgm.fr/)
  • Russian Academy of Sciences (http://www.ras.ru/)

We will continue to work on establishing agreements with other agencies and organizations.

Schedule

In 2002, we have conducted assessment-related workshops in China and Indonesia. In addition, we have focused on (1) upgrading minerals database records for identified copper, platinum-group elements, and potash; (2) writing regional overview reports that summarize available information on geology, known mineral resources, exploration history and current minerals production; and (3) continuing to identify and form working relationships with cooperators within the regions.

In 2003, we plan to hold workshops in Ecuador, Chile, and Russia. We will continue to identify and form working relationships with cooperators within the regions, organize regional working groups, initiate regional data compilation, and complete the regional overview reports. These reports will provide the background information needed to assess undiscovered mineral resources, provide a context for analyzing assessment results, and address customer needs for information on near-term (10 to 15 year) regional and global mineral supply and economic development. We will also work on revising mineral deposit models.

We plan to complete the compilation of geologic maps, inventories of known mineral deposits, and exploration histories for each region and hope to complete the assessments and regional metallogenic-tectonic syntheses by the end of 2008. Assessment results for selected commodities will be published with our cooperators as they are completed in digital, web-based, and paper formats, as appropriate. All project products should be available by 2010.

Contacts

Project chief:

Klaus Schulz
U.S. Geological Survey
954 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192
703-648-6320
kschulz@usgs.gov

Commodities:

Regions:

For more information

Visit our web site: http://minerals.usgs.gov/east/global/

References

Briskey, J.A., Schulz, K.J., Mosesso, J.P., Horwitz, L.R., and Cunningham, C.G., 2001, It's time to know the planet's mineral resources: Geotimes, available online: http://www.geotimes.org/mar01/feature1.html

Searls, J.P., 2001, Potash, in U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook, Metals and Minerals 2000, volume 1, p. 60.1-60.11. Available online at: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/potash/560400.pdf

Singer, D.A., 1995, World class base and precious metal deposits-A quantitative analysis: Economic Geology, v. 90, p. 88-104.

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