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FY2004 Program Accomplishments

The accomplishments listed below demonstrate the utility of USGS products that are counted under the output measures for number of systematic analyses and investigations, long-term data collections, and training and workshops.

Headwaters Province, Idaho and Montana: Geoscience Data a Hit with Land Managers

In a project designed to meet the USFS goals of integrating geoscience information into the land-planning process, MRP scientists have provided a wealth of information including geologic maps, databases (mineral locality, geochemical, and geophysical), and assessments for the Headwaters Province in northern Idaho and Montana. The Headwaters Province is known for its world-class deposits of gold, copper, silver, platinum, garnet, and talc; it also provides critical habitat for grizzly bears, salmon, and bull trout. For the first time, regionally consistent, digital data sets that can be used together have been made available to the USFS. The information in the data sets can be tailored to the needs of the USFS to address a wide range of issues related to land-use, forest health, landslide and wildfire hazards, as well as the potential for future mineral exploration and mining. In the words of one USFS manager, the information generated by this project provided the ability to create data sets to “best solve problems of all types.” Among other accomplishments, a spatial geologic database was compiled for the Northern Rockies and new geologic maps were produced for parts of central Idaho and western Montana. The locations of active mines and significant minerals deposits were compiled, along with data sets that describe regional variation in geophysical features. Two of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the United States occur in this environmentally sensitive area, and there is much public controversy surrounding their potential development. MRP scientists conducted in-depth studies on the characteristics of the geologic formation hosting these copper deposits, and provided information critical for understanding the potential for mineral exploration and potential impact to the environment. Six spatial databases containing geoscience information covering the western Montana copper belt were developed as a part of this work. Finally, as a result of this project, USGS scientists were able to produce the Salmon National Forest geologic map and provide interpretations of geologic features along the Lewis and Clark expedition route to the Bureau of Land Management. This project was conducted in collaboration with the University of Idaho, University of Montana, Idaho Geological Survey, and Montana Bureau of Mines. This supports the MRP 5-Year Plan goal of providing 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 by providing new mineral resource, mineral environmental, and geologic information in easily used digital formats at scales appropriate for regional decisions.

New Geologic and Geochemical Data Available for Land Managers

A long-term commitment of the MRP is to provide consistent, accurate geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral locality information that is readily available in digital formats. Among the accomplishments for FY 2004, new geologic and geochemical data have been made available through a cooperative effort with State geological surveys. Digital data sets consisting of geologic information for the States of Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as two large blocks of land in Alaska (14 1:250,000-scale quadrangles) have been prepared for release as USGS publications. For the first time, data for each of these States, organized in a consistent format and reviewed for quality, are readily available to land-use managers from Federal and State agencies, researchers in industry and academia, members of Congress, and the general public. These data can be used to evaluate State and regional scale management options with respect to mineral availability, environmental health, and sustainable development. In addition, these data are a critical component of the MRP core function of performing regional mineral-resource and environmental assessments. In January 2004, a Web-based geochemical database of stream sediment (and some soil) sample analyses was released. It includes sample data from approximately 71 percent of the land area of the United States, with sites in all 50 States (http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2004/1001/). Complete access to the geochemical data, descriptions of the project's history and analytical methods, as well as geochemical maps of the United States for each of the analyzed elements is accessible via the Internet. This national data set can be used to provide regional background values for chemical elements that have potential environmental impacts; characterize regional mineral districts; and provide data for studies on the relationships between toxic commodities, mining practices, and human health. Future work includes collaborative efforts with State and private partners to collect and analyze samples from areas where there is currently no data. This supports MRP's 5-Year Plan goal of providing 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 by providing new geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral locality information for the entire Nation in a single public easy-to-use location.

Alaska's “Slab Window”—New Insight into the Formation of Minerals

Results of recent MRP studies indicate that ore deposits that are sources of gold, tin, nickel, molybdenum, and uranium are linked to the existence of a short-lived feature of the Earth's crust called a slab window. There are six identified slab windows on present-day Earth and hundreds of others likely existed in the past. The tectonic plates that make up Alaska overrode an oceanic spreading center between 50 and 60 million years ago, and in a process known as ridge subduction (where the two oceanic plates were forced under the continent), a gap between the plates known as a slab window was created. The slab window, likened to a blowtorch that heated Alaska below the surface of the Earth, had a huge impact on mineral and energy resources. Recent MRP studies indicate that the geologic effects of the slab window are diverse and widespread, stretching 500 to 1,000 km inland from the continental margin. The most profound effect of the slab window activity was a complete reorganization of the type and location of igneous rock activity throughout Alaska. For example, the tin granite that composes Mount McKinley was found to have formed as a result of the slab window. The slab-window also affected the development of energy resources, leading to the formation of major coal beds along Alaska's Pacific margin, in the interior of Alaska, and as far away as the North Slope. The new understanding of slab windows resulting from this project improves our ability to assess undiscovered mineral and energy resources worldwide and provides extremely useful insights to both the global mineral and energy assessments that are underway in USGS. This project provides process understanding of the origins of mineral deposits in Alaska and other frontier areas, addressing MRP's 5-Year Plan goal of understanding 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.

How Do Mineral Dusts Affect Human Health?

Photograph of asbestos from Libby, Montana.
Figure 1. Asbestos from Libby, Montana

The links between mineral dusts and human health are the subject of collaborative studies between USGS scientists and human health experts. MRP scientists are providing timely, earth science information to groups in government, industry, and academia who are involved in the development of regulatory policies and remediation strategies and other health issues related to mineral dusts. Cutting edge scientific investigations by MRP scientists have provided new insights into how the diverse geologic sources for mineral dusts and the mineralogical and chemical characteristics of dusts may influence human health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA), (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration, National Park Service (NPS), Public Health Service, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, University of Arizona, and many other government agencies or universities have collaborated with MRP scientists and used the data. MRP scientists measured and collected new data on a mix of asbestos and fibrous amphiboles with unusual compositions and shapes intergrown with vermiculite, from a mine at Libby, MT. Exposure to these amphibole fibers has been linked to high incidences of asbestos-related diseases in miners, workers, and the general population of Libby. MRP research has been critical to ongoing health studies and development of cleanup strategies at Libby, as well as at more than 200 plants nationwide where Libby vermiculite was processed and in approximately 1 million homes with vermiculite insulation from Libby. This project addresses the goal set in the MRP 5-Year Plan 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.”

Wildfires Change Geochemistry of Stream Sediments in Central Idaho

As part of recently completed work in the Headwaters Province of Idaho and Montana, MRP scientists demonstrated that the geochemistry of stream sediments in central Idaho changed significantly as a result of numerous wildfires that occurred in 2000. In 1996, MRP scientists collected and analyzed stream sediment and water samples to provide a “geochemical snapshot” of the area. In the summer of 2000, fires swept across most of the large area (>388,000 acres) that had been sampled. Ten months after the fires, the entire area was resampled at the request of the USFS. Pre- and post-wildfire analytical results indicated significant differences in the chemical composition of the sets of stream-sediment samples. Results of the post-fire samples indicated higher concentrations of carbon because of increased ash and char content in the sediments; higher concentrations of rock forming elements (Al, Mg) and selected trace elements (Ba, Co, Cu, Li, Mn, Ni, Sc, V, and Zn) because of the large influx of fine, unsorted sediments into streams; and higher concentrations of cobalt and copper because much of the burned areas were underlain by rocks that host Co-Cu deposits. This information was used by the USFS in environmental studies focused on monitoring changes in drainage basins over long periods of time. This accomplishment reinforces the importance of the MRP core capability to collect and maintain data that in turn are used to monitor change, whether natural or human-induced, in the geochemical landscape and addresses the 5-Year Plan goal of applying mineral-resource expertise and technologies to non-mineral-resource issues.

Customer Use of On-line Minerals Information Continues to Grow

Chart of MIT publications downloads from 1996-2005.
Figure 2. Annual increases in downloads of USGS Minerals Information publications via the Internet are projected to continue with the annual total reaching 4 million by the end of 2005.

Customer use of the MRP Web site containing information on the 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 275,000 publications downloaded each month in 2004. In 2005, downloaded publications are expected to average 333,000 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 5-Year Plan goal to collect, compile, analyze, and disseminate data and develop and maintain national and international databases for timely release of information to all users.

Tungsten: The Metal that Makes Drill Bits Durable

In FY 2004, USGS completed a new materials flow study for tungsten, showing that nearly half of U.S. tungsten supply in 2000 was derived from scrap, demonstrating that recycling has reduced U.S. import reliance. Materials flow studies such as this are important for estimating the quantities of scrap generated and recycled, information that was not readily available in the past. According to statistics compiled in the MRP, the United States consumes about 20 percent of world primary tungsten supply on an annual basis. With no domestic production of tungsten in the past decade, the National Defense Stockpile and scrap recycling have become significant sources of tungsten in U.S. industry. China is the major supplier of U.S. imports, although Canada became a significant supplier in 2002 and 2003. In a September 2004 presentation to the International Tungsten Industry Association, which represents nearly 50 companies from 13 countries, including mining companies, processors, consumers, and trading firms, an MRP scientist outlined recent trends in U.S. tungsten supply and demand and highlighted a recently completed study on the worldwide supply and demand for tungsten, a metallic commodity that has numerous important industrial applications, including making drill bits durable. Because the United States is a major processor, consumer, and recycler of tungsten, accurate and timely information about the U.S. market is important to understanding our economy. This work supports the MRP 5-Year Plan goal of providing 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.

Map Produced for World Heritage Site, Alaska and Canada

In a collaborative effort with the NPS, Parks Canada, and the British Columbian Park Service, MRP scientists produced a map for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site that consists of the Wrangell-Saint Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks, AK, and the Kluane and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provisional Parks, Yukon Territories and British Columbia, Canada. This USGS publication, completed at the request of the NPS, is the first to show the entire World Heritage Site on a single sheet. The map has a shaded relief base, highlights important cultural features, and is available on the Internet as a poster (http://pubs.usgs.gov/sim/2004/2819/). The poster was presented to great acclaim at the NPS Parks Canada Borderlands Conference; a special feature of this USGS publication is bilingual text (English and French). The poster won second place in the Professional Competition Digital Cartographic Product category at the 2004 Alaska Surveying and Mapping Conference in Anchorage. This work was greatly facilitated by MRP project work designed to provide maps and data sets in geology, geochemistry, geophysical, and mineral locality for the entire United States and addresses the 5-Year Plan goal of applying mineral-resource expertise and technologies to non-mineral-resource issues.

Regional Geophysical Data Provided for Southwestern Alaska

Map of Alaska showing study area locations in southwestern Alaska and Seward Peninsula.
Study areas in southwestern Alaska (SW) and the Seward Peninsula (SP) where new data are being collected to aid in the understanding of the geology and mineral resources.

Much of Alaska's economy is based on the development of natural resources. Because basic geologic, geochemical, and geophysical data are lacking in many parts of the State, new data collections have the potential for stimulating exploration activity and economic growth. MRP workshops held with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey, Native Corporations, Bureau of Land Management, industry, academia, and other State agencies in FY 2003 helped to determine which areas in Alaska have the most critical needs for data. In FY 2004, MRP scientists began a project to collect new data that will aid in the understanding of the geology and mineral resources in the central part of southwestern Alaska and the Seward Peninsula, areas identified in the workshops as being among the most critical areas for study. Work completed in FY 2004 focused primarily on the central part of southwestern Alaska, an area thought to have high potential for precious and base metal resources. New geologic mapping in the Taylor Mountains quadrangle, an area in southwest Alaska about which very little is known, is required to understand the regional geologic framework. In FY 2004, USGS completed a geophysical (aeromagnetic) survey of the Taylor Mountains quadrangle and an adjacent portion of the Bethel quadrangle, an area key to understanding the underlying geologic structures and processes and the formation of mineral deposits in the entire region. Preliminary data from the geophysical survey have been released on the Web. Field studies focused on geologic investigations, geochemical sampling of stream sediments, and environmental geochemistry were also initiated in FY 2004. Federal, State, and Alaska Native land-planning organizations eagerly await these studies that they identified as critical. In addition, the work supports the MRP 5-Year Plan goal to understand the geologic setting and genesis of the Nation's mineral resources in a global context, in order to ensure a sustainable supply of minerals for the Nation's future.

Department of Commerce Trade Ruling Relies Upon USGS Data

The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) used USGS data and analyses to make a decision concerning export controls for copper-base scrap. The decision, published on July 22, 2004, rejected a petition by the copper- and brass-producing industry for export controls and export monitoring of copper-base scrap. Based on USGS minerals information, the BIS rejected the industry claims that rising exports of scrap to China had the effect of causing scrap price increases, shortages of domestic materials, and severe economic harm to the brass industry. USGS continues to provide information to the BIS as it works with the Bureau of the Census to refine export classification for copper-base scrap. This works supports the MRP 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.

Coeur d'Alene Basin: Information on Zinc and Lead Contamination Provided to National Research Council

The Coeur d'Alene mining district ranks as one of the world's largest producers of silver and one of our Nation's major producers of lead and zinc. Although today the mining activities in the district are environmentally sound, historic ore processing methods and periodic flooding of rivers have resulted in the dispersion of metal-enriched sediment at least 150 miles downstream of the mining district. Long-term litigation issues, health problems, environmental impacts, and remediation activities in this area require fundamental information about the distribution, mobility, and geoavailability of toxic elements in the basin. In June 2004, MRP scientists presented the results of studies on the Coeur d'Alene Basin (completed in FY 2002) to the NRC's committee on Superfund Site Assessment and Remediation. The committee was charged with independently evaluating the Superfund site in northern Idaho as a case study to examine the EPA's scientific and technical practices in Superfund site area characterization, human and ecological risk assessment, remedial planning, and decisionmaking. USGS presentations were focused on the distributions and behavior of zinc and lead in the water and sediments of the Coeur d'Alene River and Lake Coeur d'Alene. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Western Australia, MRP scientists provided information that will be incorporated into detailed hydrodynamic and ecological models for Lake Coeur d'Alene; these models will be used by the EPA and other agencies to evaluate alternative management scenarios for the lake. A talk and field trip by MRP scientists addressed two additional issues relevant to the NRC review: (1) the size and shape and metal content of metal-enriched sediment deposits in the valley of the South Fork and main stem of the Coeur d'Alene River and (2) the ongoing movement of metal-enriched sediment in the basin including the rate of movement, metal content, and the source of the metal. The NRC report is in preparation and due to be released in mid 2005. This type of mineral resource assessment work supports the MRP 5-Year Plan goal to understand the influence of mineral deposits, mineralizing processes, and mineral-resource development on environmental integrity, ecosystems, public health, and geologic hazards.

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