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FY2002 Program Performance Accomplishments

Geo-environmental Studies of Phosphate Deposits in the Northern Rockies

The Western Phosphate Field of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming is a major source of phosphate and phosphoric acid, used in a broad array of products including fertilizers and feeds, detergents and cleaning supplies, food products, fire retardants, water softeners, beverages, and pharmaceuticals. The field has produced 12 percent of the cumulative production of phosphate for the U.S. since 1911 and has 30 percent of the US reserve, and 3 percent of the world reserve. USGS scientists completed a multidisciplinary study focused on the southeast Idaho portion of the field, at the request of the BLM and in partnership with the USFS, University of Idaho, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and regional phosphate producers. Products of the study include updated resource estimates for the Idaho portion of the field, and information on sources and concentrations of potentially toxic elements associated with extraction of phosphate. A key toxin of concern is selenium, which occurs naturally and is essential for life, but can be harmful where it is found in elevated concentrations. Selenium is present in elevated concentrations in the rocks that host the phosphate deposits and can be transported into the environment by leaching of phosphate mine waste dumps. The USGS worked with other Federal and State agencies to identify the sources of selenium in the environment and to provide information on how it affects plants and animals in the region.

Baseline Data for the Yukon-Tanana Upland, Alaska

The USGS recently completed a geologic, geophysical, geochemical, and hydrogeochemical investigation within a portion of the gold-rich Yukon-Tanana Upland of east-central Alaska. This effort, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the BLM, defined the relative contribution of various geogenic (natural) and anthropogenic (human-caused) sources and activities to the mobility, cycling, and bioavailability of metals. Geogenic trace element sources were segregated on the basis of rock type and mineral deposit type. Anthropogenic sources included suction dredge gold operations, local stream-channel disturbances caused by mechanical placer gold operations, and long-range atmospheric metal transport. The geologic and geophysical studies have produced detailed regional maps and interpretations showing the composition of the rocks, the nature and orientation of faults, and the processes that have affected the rocks since they were deposited. Primary products and conclusions of this study include: (1) establishment of baseline geochemical values for waters, soils, rocks, sediments, Arctic grayling (fish), and selected terrestrial vegetation; (2) definition of the influence of geology on water, soil, fish, and vegetation geochemical signatures; (3) determination of the movement of metals through ecosystems of particular interest—specifically boreal subarctic upland and riverine forests; and (4) definition of the relative contribution of the various natural sources of trace elements to the landscape, using both geologic and hydrologic framework models. In addition, the USGS produced landscape geochemistry study layers to better understand the role of geology on metal cycling and water quality. The data will be used by Native corporations, Federal and State agencies responsible for monitoring environmental conditions, State agencies responsible for economic development, mining companies interested in exploring for as-yet-undiscovered mineral deposits, and the public.

World-class Base-metal Deposits in Alaska

Recently completed work in Alaska demonstrates that there is potential for as-yet-undiscovered world class deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Three areas were studied: two that are known to contain world class deposits (Red Dog, in the Brooks Range, and Greens Creek, in southeast Alaska) and one that has potential for similar deposits. Integration of new geologic, geochemical, and geophysical data has improved the understanding of how Red Dog and Greens Creek formed, has resulted in more refined exploration models, and has improved resource assessments. At Red Dog, USGS investigations suggest that mineralization was formed by a long-lived, complex fluid circulation system and is controlled, at least in part, by the abundance and thickness of specific host rocks. In addition, project scientists have determined a combination of indicators that can point toward centers of mineralized rock, increasing the ability to locate additional deposits. At Greens Creek, USGS research documents the geologic, geochemical, geophysical, structural, geochronologic, and mineralogic characteristics of one of Alaska's world-class deposits. Knowledge gained at Greens Creek has led to the development of a coherent metallogenic model for similar age rocks throughout southeast Alaska, improving the ability to assess its economic importance. In east-central Alaska, a synthesis of new magmatic ages reveals a heretofore unrecognized variety of intrusive rocks associated with continental drift in Middle Devonian to mid-Mississippian time. The Late Devonian age and tectonic setting established for known minor base-metal mineralization in this area suggest a correlation between the Alaskan deposits and similar larger deposits in Canada, now offset by the Tintina fault, suggesting the potential for large undiscovered deposits. Compilations of these results are in preparation now and will be published by the USGS and outside publishers in 2004. The data will be used by Native corporations, State agencies responsible for economic development, mining companies interested in exploring for as-yet-undiscovered mineral deposits, and the public.

New Digital Magnetic Anomaly Map and Database for North America

In FY 2002, the Geological Survey of Canada, the USGS, and Mexico's Consejo de Recursos Minerales published the completed magnetic anomaly map of onshore and offshore North America, the gridded data and derivative grids used to make the map, case studies illustrating the utility and interpretation of aeromagnetic data, and over 300 individual digital data sets from USGS aeromagnetic surveys collected over the last 60 years. The database is a powerful tool for further evaluation of the structure, geologic processes, and tectonic evolution of North America and may also be used to help resolve societal and scientific issues that span national boundaries. Understanding the regional geology of the continent provides information useful for applications such as mineral and energy resource assessments, investigations of earthquake and landslide hazards, and hydrologic and environmental studies. In many cases, examination of magnetic anomalies is the most expeditious and cost-effective way to accurately map geologic features at depth. Customers who have already used the database include the Department of Defense; National Imagery and Mapping Agency; State and local agencies, universities, and private companies. The U.S. portion of the work was jointly funded by several Geology discipline programs: Mineral Resources, Energy Resources, National Cooperative Geologic Mapping, Earthquake Hazards, Volcano Hazards, and Coastal and Marine Geology.

Collaboration on Global Mineral Resource Assessment

In FY 2002, the USGS-led, internationally coordinated Global Mineral Resource Assessment (GMRA) formalized three new partnerships. The Geological Survey of China, the Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programs in East and Southeast Asia, and the Center for Russian and Central Asian Mineral Studies have approved formal agreements for collaboration in GMRA. In addition, international workshops were held in Beijing, China, and Novosibirsk, Russia. These agreements and workshops are essential building blocks for data and information exchange between the USGS and counterpart experts in two of the world's largest mineral producing and using nations.

Use of On-line Minerals Information Continues to Grow

Chart of MIT publications downloads from 1996-2003.
Figure 1. Annual increases in the dissemination of USGS Minerals Information publications via the Internet are projected to continue and to reach 2.5 million by the end of 2003.

Customer use of the USGS Web site containing information on the domestic and global supply of minerals and materials essential to the U.S. economy (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/) has reached a new high. The Web site had an average of 94,300 visits each month in 2002. Visits in 2003 are expected to average 138,000 per month. The Web site contains publications on more than 100 minerals and materials as well as the mineral industries of 180 countries. The publications are used by Federal agencies for statistical analysis of U.S. trade and production and for making economic forecasts and by industry to estimate market share and evaluate market trends.

National Geochemical Database Grows

As part of the effort to ensure geochemical sample coverage of the entire U.S., cooperative agreements were initiated in FY 2002 with State geological surveys in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, South Dakota, and North Dakota to collect stream sediment samples that will be analyzed for 42 elements by the USGS. These data will be incorporated into the database and will be used to produce geochemical maps, determine background values for selected elements, and, in combination with other data, allow investigation of issues ranging from agro-chemical impacts on environmental and human health to forecasting the nature and distribution of mineral resources. The data will be used by Federal and State agencies responsible for monitoring environmental conditions, geological and engineering consulting firms working on establishing baselines for remediation projects, non-government organizations concerned with effects of agro-chemicals on the landscape, academia, and the public.

Joint USGS-Wisconsin Effort Compiles Mineral Deposit Data

The USGS and the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) have completed a joint effort to upgrade information on industrial minerals sites in Wisconsin. The WGNHS compiled new deposit information for 1,302 industrial minerals deposits (mostly sand and gravel) that will be incorporated into the USGS's Mineral Resource Data System (MRDS) database. This shared effort not only provided the USGS with new mineral deposit information, but also provided a means to update information used at the State level by a number of State agencies.

Recycling and Materials Flows of Metals

Twenty-six studies that focus on the recycling phase of the overall material flow of individual mineral commodities were completed or underway in FY 2002. Mineral commodities were selected on the basis of their known or potential recycling activity. The core of each report is a flow chart detailing estimated quantities of old scrap generated, old scrap supply, old scrap consumed, new scrap consumed, and trade in scrap. Based on data shown in the flow chart, a table of salient scrap statistics is presented for each metal commodity, including such measures as calculated old scrap recycling efficiency and recycling rate, using formulas especially developed for these studies. Each report also includes background information on sources of supply, infrastructure of the scrap recycling industry, scrap processing technology, and outlook. Mineral commodity studies have been completed and posted on the Internet (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/) for chromium, cobalt, columbium (niobium), gold, iron and steel, lead, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, platinum, tantalum. This information is used by mining companies, chemical producers, commodity traders, public sector decision makers, individual investors, researchers, and international organizations to make business and investment decisions, track supply and consumption of mineral commodities, and make public policy decisions.

Prototype Electronic Forms Response Capability Developed

The USGS collects worldwide data on virtually every commercially important nonfuel mineral commodity. These data form the base for tracking and evaluating the minerals sector of the U.S. economy. Specific questions about mineral commodity activities, such as production, consumption, and shipments, are structured in the survey forms to provide meaningful aggregated data. Thus, the entire mineral economic cycle from production through consumption and recycling requires 140 monthly, quarterly, semiannual, and annual surveys. The USGS surveys approximately 18,000 mineral industry establishments at least once per year. The USGS mails about 45,000 forms for the 140 different surveys each year. In FY 2002, an effort to allow electronic response to these survey forms was initiated. A prototype electronic form for sulfur was developed, evaluated by the respondents, and implemented. An electronic response capability for USGS minerals information survey forms is expected to reduce Government costs, provide convenience to the respondents, and facilitate timely publication of the aggregated survey results. This capability is being developed in response to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.

Yellowstone Lake Bathymetric Mapping Completed

Bathymetric mapping of Yellowstone Lake has been conducted over three summers and was completed in September 2002. Investigations completed in FY 2002 are critical to understanding the processes operating in the Yellowstone area, to developing models for the formation of large calderas and associated mineral deposits, and to identifying and understanding processes associated with potential volcanic, hydrothermal, and seismic hazards. Results from high-resolution bathymetry combined with submersible remotely operated vehicle observations and sampling in Yellowstone Lake reveal an irregular lake bottom covered with dozens of features directly related to hydrothermal, tectonic, volcanic, and sedimentary processes. These new data will enable completion of high resolution interpretive studies of Yellowstone geology and volcanic hazards. Completion of this bathymetric survey and accompanying interpretive reports will allow National Park Service staff to better manage resource and hazards issues associated with active volcanic features concealed beneath the lake.

CRADA Publishes Databases on the Aggregates Industry

The Aggregates Industry Atlas of the United States on CD-ROM, produced under a cooperative research and development agreement between the USGS and the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA), was released for distribution January 16, 2002. The CD-ROM includes two searchable databases with 2,695 crushed stone and 3,485 sand and gravel operations and geographic information system software, as well as a wide range of geographic information. The CD-ROM Atlas was designed to be useful to architects and civil engineers, plant managers, construction contractors, land-use planners, sales and marketing professionals, Congressional offices, and State and county legislators. The CD-ROM is marketed by NSSGA and can be ordered at http://secure.podi.com/nssga/index.cfm?clear=x.

USGS Completes Baseline Study of the Blackfoot River Basin, Montana

Remediation of contamination by historic mining activities and the development of a known gold deposit are both important issues within the Blackfoot River basin of western Montana. The USGS recently completed a 4-year study to characterize the geochemistry of surface water and streambed sediment along the 215-km length of this major river and to determine the relationship of these parameters to stream flow conditions. Historic mining in the headwaters has been linked to water and bed sediment contamination and declines in benthic organisms and trout populations for as much as tens of kilometers from mine sites in the upper basin. These sites have undergone remediation since 1993. Current mining interests in the basin focus on a large identified gold resource (estimated at 9 million ounces) near the confluence of the Landers Fork and Blackfoot Rivers. The data generated during the USGS study provides unbiased, science-based information for decision makers to evaluate the effectiveness of the remediation activities at the historic mine sites. In addition, the data will be valuable in assessing environmental impacts from any future minerals development in the basin. Federal and State agencies responsible for regulating mining and/or monitoring environmental quality, mining companies interested in developing known and not-yet discovered mineral deposits, geological and engineering consulting forms retained by either regulators or industry will use the data.

Abandoned Mine Land Project Frames Remediation Scenarios for Two Watersheds

“The Forest Service uses the watershed characterization information provided by the USGS to help set National AML funding priorities. The ribbon maps are especially useful for summarizing the results.”

Ray TeSoro
Abandoned Mine Lands Coordinator
USDA-Forest Service, Northern Region

USGS delivered to partners an environmental response map of the Boulder River watershed, Montana study area. Working with EPA, project members assisted in developing fundamental geologic data for waste repository evaluation and worked with their contractors on the application of newly developed criteria for site characterization in the recently declared Tenmile watershed Superfund site, which is the water supply for Helena, MT. The USGS developed a conceptual framework for understanding the contribution of metals derived from weathering of hydrothermally altered rock to the quality of ground and surface water in the Animas River watershed in Colorado. This framework results in ribbon maps, which show the risk to water quality. Collaborative studies with colleagues in the Colorado Geological Survey, Colorado Department of Health and Environment, local governments, and Animas River Stakeholders Group (a coalition of local concerned citizens) have resulted in development of a watershed-scale strategy for remediation developed and implemented by the Stakeholders Group using EPA grants. Two tools that assist land managers in making science-based remediation decisions were completed and delivered. The first tool is a mass-loading method used to evaluate and rank the importance of loading sources in streams affected by mine drainage. The second tool is a solute-transport model that can be used prior to remediation to evaluate the effects of remedial alternatives on stream water quality. The mass-loading method has been applied by local stakeholders to help choose remediation sites out of 1,500 existing sites in the upper Animas River Basin in Colorado. The solute-transport model has been used to illustrate that certain remedial alternatives may degrade water quality. More information can be found on the Web at http://amli.usgs.gov/amli/ and http://www.usgs.gov/themes/factsheet/095-99/.

USGS Responds to Mineral Information Needs in Alaska

Accomplishments during FY 2002 included completion of cataloging the minerals-related library collection at the DOI research library facility in Alaska (ARLIS); completing cataloging of selected materials in the USGS Alaska Technical Data Unit; continued indexing of minerals-related academic theses on Alaska topics; continued updating and delivery of mineral deposit and occurrence information; continued cleanup and delivery of geochemical data; initiation of a database of Alaska macrofossil data; and continued work to build a multi-agency Internet data delivery system for all of the information produced by the project to date. Products in FY 2002 include a searchable and query-able CD-ROM of geochemistry data, release of 12 new reports of mineral deposit data, and on-line publication of all State of Alaska geologic maps and reports. Most (over $1.2 million) of the $1.5 million appropriated in FY 2002 was passed through to other agencies (State and Federal), the University of Alaska, and private consultants, to oversee or conduct the work required.

Environmental Legacy of the California Gold Rush: Mercury Contamination in the Sierra Nevada and Trinity Mountains

“…high quality data and current conceptual model of how mercury from a variety of sources adversely affects beneficial uses of waters of the state resulting from this effort are already contributing to our agency's programs.”

Rick Humphreys
State Water Resources Control Board

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin affecting humans and wildlife primarily through the pathway of fish consumption. Extensive use of mercury for gold recovery during the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused widespread mercury contamination of water, sediment, and biota along the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas of California in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary and in the Trinity Mountains. Federal, State, and local land-management and regulatory agencies need a sound scientific understanding of mercury sources, fate, transport, and transformation in the environment to develop effective, cost-efficient, long-term solutions to the mercury bioaccumulation problem. The USGS is leading several multi-disciplinary mercury studies involving numerous other agencies as partners and stakeholders, including BLM, USFS, BOR, FWS, EPA, and the California State Water Resources Control Board. During FY 2002, the USGS provided data on mercury contamination in water, sediment, and biota at specific abandoned mine sites to BLM, USFS, and others, which served as a basis for these agencies to begin remediation activities. USGS data showing elevated mercury in sport fish resulted in Interim Public Health Notifications by four California counties. A USGS study found that colloidal suspension of particulate matter plays an important role in downriver mercury transport, with the greatest impact occurring during high flow or runoff events. The data collected to date provide water-resource managers with an improved understanding of the source and type of mercury in the Sacramento River. The data are used to support issuance of State-level fish consumption advisories and augment the State list of water bodies with impaired beneficial uses.

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