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FY2003 Program Accomplishments

Geochemical Processes Occurring in Mineral Deposits in the Eastern United States

In support of its goal to understand the influence of mineral deposits, mineralizing processes, and mineral-resource development on environmental integrity, ecosystems, public health, and geologic hazards, the MRP completed geo-environmental studies in the eastern United States, which addressed scientific issues of regional, national, and international significance. A primary goal of these studies was to understand the geochemical processes that underlie the cycling of metals and related compounds in the environment. Products from this study have been used by Federal and State agencies in the establishment of remediation goals. Results include an increased understanding of the geochemical processes that control transport, fate, and toxicity of heavy metals, including arsenic and mercury, in surficial environments of the eastern United States. Elevated arsenic concentrations in New England have been a significant environmental issue, particularly in the coastal areas. One focus of this work was to identify geologic controls on arsenic concentrations in rural and suburban ground-water supplies that have been linked to a higher incidence of bladder cancer and other diseases in humans. Another phase of the work was focused on acid mine drainage in eastern watersheds, where the impact on aquatic ecosystems was identified. Results of the arsenic and mercury studies are being used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NPS, and State environmental quality departments to distinguish between natural and human sources of these contaminants. Research on acid-mine drainage from abandoned mines has provided a process-oriented understanding of the sources, causes, and fates of metal-laden acidic drainage and has helped these agencies to set realistic remediation goals and engineer cost-effective solutions.

Geology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics for Mineral Exploration across the Central Alaska Range

In support of its goal to understand the geologic setting and genesis of the Nation's resources in a global context, to ensure a sustainable supply of minerals for the Nation's future, the MRP completed a study of the Talkeetna Mountains in south-central Alaska. Understanding the area's geologic history is critical to understanding the processes which assembled discrete geologic blocks into the current configuration of southern Alaska, as well as to estimating potential for undiscovered mineral deposits. The Talkeetna Mountains form the core of south-central Alaska, strategically located between two active fault systems (Denali, Castle Mountain) and between two basins (Copper River and Susitna) whose oil and gas potential are of increasing interest to industry. The relatively well-developed infrastructure of the Talkeetna Mountains and their abundance of public lands and proximity to areas of active mineral exploration and urban expansion make accurate geoscientific information critical for decisions among contrasting land uses.

In cooperation with the State of Alaska, the USGS conducted geologic investigations on an area of the Talkeetna Mountains critical to understanding the mineral endowment of the Wrangellia terrane, a focus of economic interest for platinum-group elements, copper and nickel. A consortium of USGS scientists, contractors, and cooperators from academia completed geologic and geophysical studies along a transect through the Talkeetna Mountains. These results and other information are being provided to the public as digital products (data and text files), as a GIS-based map suite, and as chapters in a Special Volume to be published by the Geological Society of America. These products can be used by a wide variety of land-use agencies, researchers, industry, and other organizations interested in the further development of the Talkeetna Mountains. Results of USGS investigations and analysis have been provided to Federal and State land managers for use in planning decisions including land swaps and establishment of lands open to mineral entry.

Availability and Environmental Effects of Phosphate Deposits in Southeastern Idaho and Surrounding Area

In support of its goal to provide objective information and analysis related to minerals issues to support those who make decisions regarding national security, land use, resource policy, and environmental or public health and safety, the MRP completed a phosphate study, conducted at the request of the BLM, to update the estimates of the size and phosphate content of the primary phosphate ore bodies and adjacent rock units in southeastern Idaho. The Western Phosphate Field, an area of 350,000 square kilometers in the northern Rocky Mountains, contains extensive deposits of commercial-grade phosphate that has been mined for almost 100 years. The principal use for phosphate is as fertilizer, but other products derived from phosphate are also used in many industrial applications such as detergent and water softeners. Results of the research indicate that a 100 year supply of phosphate is available, at the present rate of extraction of phosphate. In addition, selenium concentrations were found to be elevated in wildlife, plants, soils, and surface and ground waters, in many places beyond the limits of safety as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. The work was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), University of Idaho, and regional phosphate producers. The BLM, USFS, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Idaho Department of Environmental Quality are using these results to evaluate the extent of selenium contamination from phosphate mining and develop strategies for the wise and environmentally sound development of this important resource. The BIA also is using results of this work to evaluate resource and environmental issues associated with past and possible future phosphate mining on the Fort Hall Reservation.

Index to Historically Important Records on Web Completed

An online index to historically important records on nearly 5,000 mining properties located throughout the United States was completed by the MRP. The records consist of maps, reports, correspondence, and production and reserve data that were collected as part of the Defense Minerals Administration, Defense Minerals Exploration Administration, and Office of Minerals Exploration programs. Under these programs, the Federal Government and private industry shared costs for mineral exploration from 1950 to 1974. The programs supported domestic exploration for strategic and critical minerals during the Cold War and resulted in a collection of records representing years of geologic and mineral exploration. The thousands of properties studied are well documented, and the information is sought after by governmental agencies, mining companies, and private individuals. The index is available at This work supports the MRP goal to collect, compile, analyze, and disseminate data and develop and maintain national and international databases for timely release of information to all users.

Customer Use of On-line Minerals Information Continues to Grow

Chart of MIT publications downloads from 1996-2004.
Figure 1. Annual increases in downloads of USGS Minerals Information publications via the Internet are projected to continue and to reach 3 million by the end of 2004.

Customer use of the MRP Web site containing information on the global supply of minerals and materials essential to the U.S. economy ( has reached a new high. The Web site had an average of 206,000 visits each month in 2003. Visits in 2004 are expected to average 250,000 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. This work supports the MRP goal to collect, compile, analyze, and disseminate data and develop and maintain national and international databases for timely release of information to all users.

USGS Scientists Begin Development of a New Soil Geochemistry Survey

A workshop was held in March 2003, to begin development of a new soil geochemistry survey. The new database, a product of the survey, will provide baseline geochemical information that Federal, State, and local agencies can use to set appropriate and enforceable levels for environmentally sensitive chemical elements and compounds to protect the health of their citizens. The work is being conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Reclamation, Geological Survey of Canada, Consejo de Recursos Minerales, State agencies, academia, and other organizations. The workshop covered topics such as sampling protocols and design, the potential for analysis of pesticide residues, potentially toxic organic compounds, and microbiological characterization. The need for this new soil geochemical survey was demonstrated by the large number of requests the MRP has received for soil geochemical information in the past few years. A geochemical data set containing “background” trace element concentrations for 1,323 soil samples in the conterminous United States has been one of the most highly requested data sets—these samples were collected by USGS scientists during the 1960s and 1970s. This soil geochemistry data set proved to be extremely useful for environmental geochemistry and risk assessment studies; however, the data were too sparse to adequately cover the Nation. States are now establishing action levels for arsenic in residential soils, without knowing the background levels. At least nine States have action levels for residential soils of less than 1 ppm, which is below the background arsenic content in soils of the State. The new soil geochemical survey will help to provide better data to address these issues. This work supports the MRP goal to provide objective information and analysis related to minerals issues to support those who make decisions regarding national security, land use, resource policy, and environmental or public health and safety.

Minerals Pre-Assessment and Training Provided to the Government of Madagascar

In April 2003, USGS mineral specialists presented a short course on “Three-Part Mineral Resource Assessment” for the Ministry of Energy and Mines, in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The short course was sponsored by the World Bank and the Ministry of Energy and Mines. The methodology for three-part mineral resource assessments was developed by the USGS to provide estimates of potential for undiscovered mineral resources to assist in land classification decisions. In July and August 2003, MRP scientists conducted a preliminary assessment of non-fuel minerals for the Government of Madagascar. The project completed a 159-page report and CD-ROM, which were well received by USAID, the Project de Gouvernance sur les Ressources Minerales, and the U.S. Embassy in Tana. The Ministry of Energy and Mines in Madagascar will use this information in land-use decisionmaking, and USGS scientists will use the new understandings of Madagascar in the ongoing global assessment of potential for undiscovered mineral resources. This work supports the MRP goal to understand the geologic setting and genesis of the Nation's mineral resources in a global context, to ensure a sustainable supply of minerals for the Nation's future.

Sustainable Development Indicators

Achievements of the Sustainable Minerals Roundtable were presented at the 12th Annual Conference of the Mineral Economics and Management Society in Golden, CO, by a USGS scientist. The Sustainable Minerals Roundtable, chaired by the USFS and USGS, was formed to support the Nation's commitment to sustainable development. The goal of the roundtable is to develop indicators of sustainability in the realm of mineral and energy resources, based on social, economic, and environmental factors. The USGS is an essential partner in this effort as the sole Federal provider of scientific information for objective resource assessments and unbiased research results on mineral potential, production, consumption, and environmental effects. The indicators developed by the roundtable were published in a 2003 National Report and will be used in a congressionally-mandated 2005 State of the Land report. This work supports the MRP goal to provide objective information and analysis related to minerals issues to support those who make decisions regarding national security, land use, resource policy, and environmental or public health and safety. Partners include other government agencies, industry, academia, non-governmental organizations, and Tribal governments.

Comprehensive Publication on Abandoned Mine Lands Completed

MRP scientists have completed an 18-chapter USGS Professional Paper on the Boulder River watershed, as part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative. By using a multidiscipline approach that integrated geologic, hydrologic, geochemical, and ecological information, USGS scientists provided information needed by Federal land management agencies to make decisions related to the design and implementation of cleanup actions. MRP scientists had a major role in developing methods of assessment of watersheds, techniques for identifying major contributors to environmental degradation, and approaches to cost-effective remediation strategies. The methods and results reported in this report are being used by Federal land management agencies in land-planning issues. The overall goal of this initiative was to develop a strategy for gathering and communicating the scientific information needed to develop effective and cost-efficient remediation of abandoned mines, within the framework of a watershed. The Animas River watershed in Colorado and Boulder River watershed in Montana were selected by State and Federal agencies for detailed study by the USGS. This work addresses the Mineral Resources Program 5-year plan goal to provide objective information and analysis related to minerals issues to support those who make decisions regarding national security, land use, resource policy, and environmental or public health and safety.

Prototype Electronic Forms Response Capability Developed

The USGS collects worldwide data on virtually every commercially important non-fuel 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 surveys 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 2003, an effort to allow electronic response to these survey forms continued. Electronic forms for cement, molybdenum, dimension stone, zinc, and sulfur were developed, evaluated by the respondents, and implemented. Eight canvass forms, which cover 14 percent of the total number of annual responses, have been converted, tested, and are available for use by the reporting companies. 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 Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998.

Integrated Geologic, Geochemical, and Geophysical Studies of Yellowstone National Park

In support of its goal to provide objective information and analysis related to minerals issues to support those who make decisions regarding national security, land use, resource policy, and environmental or public health and safety, the MRP completed an integrated study in Yellowstone National Park for the National Park Service. Yellowstone National Park and its spectacular geothermal features are the products of the interaction between continental crust and an active hot spot at depth. Systems like this are thought to have been responsible for formation of important mineral deposits in the past, so understanding both active and ancient processes has been a priority for MRP. Cooperative work among the USGS, NPS, and university scientists has produced new information about processes that formed the park's major features and concentrated potentially toxic metals. These processes could also be the source of geologic hazards to life and property.

Products from this study, including maps, digital data sets, and reports, are being used by the NPS to address resource management issues. For example, results of this work indicate that some trout contain elevated levels of mercury derived from hot springs that vent along the lake bottom; this information is being used by the NPS to determine whether a hazard is posed to recreational fisherman. In another example, the documentation of lake-bottom morphology relative to the preferred habitat of invasive, non-native lake trout is being used by NPS ecologists to determine where lake trout can be harvested for removal.

Discoveries from recent (1999-2003) multibeam sonar mapping and seismic-reflection surveys of Yellowstone Lake provide new insight into the recent geologic forces that have shaped a large lake at the active front of the Yellowstone hot spot, a region strongly affected by young (<2 my), large-volume (>100 1000's km3) silicic volcanism, active tectonism, and accompanying uplift. Yellowstone Lake has an irregular bottom covered with dozens of features directly related to hydrothermal, tectonic, volcanic, and sedimentary processes. Detailed bathymetric, seismic reflection, and magnetic evidence reveals that rhyolitic lava flows underlie much of Yellowstone Lake and exert fundamental control on lake morphology and localization of hydrothermal activity in the northern, West Thumb, and central basins. Many previously unknown features have been identified in the lake, including (but not limited to) over 300 hydrothermal vents, several very large (>500 m diameter) hydrothermal explosion craters, many small hydrothermal vent craters (∼1-200 m diameter), and domed lacustrine sediments related to hydrothermal activity. Faults, fissures, hydrothermally inflated domal structures, hydrothermal explosion craters, and sublacustrine landslides constitute potentially significant geologic hazards. Fluids associated with active sublacustrine hydrothermal vent activity strongly influence the geochemical composition of Yellowstone Lake water, which may significantly affect the Yellowstone ecosystem.

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