FY2007 Mineral Resources Program Accomplishments
The Impact of Successful Partnerships: DOI Science Supports DOI Land Management
Information exchanged on a multi agency tour of Mancos Shale terrains facilitated the coordination of the multidisciplinary scientific effort to address issues related to management of these areas.
The Mancos Shale in Colorado and Utah is a dark colored easily eroded rock that underlies arid terrain. It poses significant problems for land managers faced with (1) increased and changing demands for land use as well as (2) issues related to the bioavailability of selenium and the salinity of surface- and ground-water. Selenium-related water quality issues (including adverse affects on endangered fish communities) are especially severe in the upper and lower Colorado River basins and on the southern border lands. A multidisciplinary effort led by scientists supported by the USGS Mineral Resources Program has addressed the problem of insufficient data required to formulate scientifically supportable policies for (1) the sustainable development of mineral and energy resources contained in black shale terrains and (2) the stewardship of black shale landscapes by resource and land managers, especially those at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A description of the partnership activities is available at http://www.blm.gov/nstc/USGS%20BLM/. The current Mancos Shale studies have resulted in basic scientific data that are applicable to the study of black shale terrains elsewhere; results from current studies are being used for planning and implementation of the Department of Interior’s (DOI) new Healthy Lands Initiative. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands .
Big Bend National Park: Contaminant Studies of Inactive Mercury Mines
The Mariscal mercury mine, located in Big Bend National Park, was mined from 1900 until 1943. View showing retorts, where the mercury was separated from the ore when the mine was active, and mine waste, which were the subject of recent studies.
One of the most significant environmental concerns associated with mercury mines is the ability of mercury to transform chemically and microbially into organic compounds, such as methylmercury. Methylmercury, the most toxic of the mercury compounds and a human neurotoxin, is of special concern because it is water soluble and can be readily transferred from sediment, to water, and to biota, such as fish. Conversion and transfer of methylmercury from active and inactive mercury mines to surrounding ecosystems is a potential concern worldwide. A number of mercury mines that have been inactive since the 1970s are located in and near Big Bend National Park, Texas. Access to the only mercury mine in the park is generally unrestricted, and as a result, tourists often visit this site. A recently completed study of mining-related mercury contamination in and around Big Bend National Park found that, although mercury concentrations were elevated in mine waste, the concentrations of methylmercury were generally low in the ecosystems downstream because this hot and dry desert climate provides conditions unfavorable for transformation to methylmercury . Based on this information, NPS managers know that they do not have to take special corrective actions to protect humans, fish, and other wildlife from highly toxic methylmercury. This work was part of ongoing collaborative studies of the geology, geochemistry, geochronology, and geophysics of Big Bend National Park between the National Park Service and the USGS Mineral Resources and National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Programs. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.
Understanding Metal Pathways in Mineralized Ecosystems
Successful management of ecosystems containing historical mine wastes requires understanding processes that influence the distribution, concentration, and bioavailability of potentially toxic elements, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, selenium, and zinc. These process understandings are critical for successfully managing chronically impacted ecosystems where total remediation of environmental problems is not financially or technically possible. Recent studies of historical mine sites in the western United States were designed to improve our understanding of how elements are mobilized from mineralized sources, transported through the environment, and become available to humans and other biota. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) used study results in the restoration of selected areas of the Trinity and Clear Creek Rivers, Calif., where historic placer gold dredging in the flood plains has modified rivers and impaired the spawning and rearing habitats of salmonid species. Study results minimized the effects of mercury, an element used in some mining processes to concentrate gold, in the course of restoration. Other examples of how agencies responsible for land use and land management decisions have used the results of the studies can be found at http://minerals.usgs.gov/west/projects/path.htm. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.
Studies in the Tintina Gold Province, Alaska
The Tintina Gold Province is an arc-shaped, 1,200 km (750 mile)-long metallogenic province extending from northern British Columbia, through the Yukon, across and into southwestern Alaska.
The Tintina Gold Province (TGP) is historically the region of some of the very first placer and lode gold discoveries in northern North America; it has recently seen resurgence in mineral exploration, development, and mining activity. This resurgence is due to both new discoveries, as well as the application of modern extraction methods to previously known, but economically restrictive resources. From 2002 to 2007, the MRP supported studies in the TGP to understand how mineral resources were deposited, why this area is so abundantly endowed, and the environmental consequences related to the development of mineral resources in this broad region. The studies resulted in refinement of the model for the newly identified epizonal gold deposits that characterize the area, providing a fundamental scientific understanding of both how the gold deposits were formed and important environmental considerations, especially for arsenic, mercury, and antimony levels in soils and waters, that is critical information for land managers and regulators involved with resource development. New 1:63,360-scale geologic mapping was prepared that underpins the studies on the origin of the mineralization as well as regional hydrologic and geoenvironmental studies. Examination of the geochemical signature reflected in the aqueous, stream sediment, and biogeochemical environments, resulted in information on the extent of element bioavailability (potential uptake by plants and animals) in different geologic terranes. The results of this project will be used by land managers, exploration companies, and mining companies to ensure that exploration and mining are conducted using practices that minimize environmental degradation, and by USGS to improve the accuracy of mineral resource and geoenvironmental assessments. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of reliable geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral locality data for the United States.
Understanding Contaminants Associated with Mineral Deposits
Studies in Handcart Gulch, Colo., were key to identifying a link between acidic, metal-rich ground water and the intensity of hydrothermal alteration and pyrite content.
Recent process-related studies of contaminants associated with mineral deposits focused on abandoned and inactive mines and mineralized areas in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona where thousands of abandoned mines occur. As a result of these studies, substantial progress has been made in understanding the processes that (1) control the release of metals and acidity from inactive mines and mineralized areas; (2) transport metals and acidic waters to streams; and (3) effect of metals and acidity on downstream ecosystems. In Handcart Gulch, Colo., a watershed that lies along the Continental Divide and is underlain by a low-grade copper-molybdenum deposit, researchers found a unique opportunity to study natural sources of metals and acidity and their movement through the surface- and ground-water in the fragile alpine watershed. This study, combined with a number of other studies detailed at http://minerals.cr.usgs.gov/projects/contaminants/index.html provide information to Federal land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service tasked with managing lands with mines and mineralized areas. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.
Remote Sensing Research and Applications
Clay-mica-sulfate mineral map (.pdf of the Montezuma mining district in the Colorado Mineral Belt was created using techniques developed as part of the Remote Sensing Research and Application Project from interpretation of AVIRIS hyperspectral data.
A recent project designed to extend the usefulness of remote sensing data and technology for geoenvironmental and mineral resource applications has been completed. A series of studies were undertaken to compare spectral information with known geochemical and geophysical properties of materials on the Earth’s surface. These studies establish the links between remote sensing data and geochemical and geophysical data, provide the rationale for interpreting the results of remote sensing analyses, and form the basis for designing remote sensing applications. Spectral library material, providing standards against which new data can be compared, were created, updated, and made available online as part of the new work. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits .
Digital Maps and Datasets Available at National Scale
Earth science information is important to decision makers who formulate public policy related to mineral resource sustainability, land stewardship, environmental hazards, the economy and public health. In 1997, the Mineral Resources Program initiated four regionally based projects, the National Survey and Analysis (S&A) projects, designed to develop and/or expand four national digital databases—geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and mineral occurrences. Maps and analyses produced from these databases have been used to address a wide range of regional and national land-use studies, mineral resource assessments, and environmental issues. The now-completed S&A projects were designed to gather, create, and organize the information and the Mineral Resources Program is committed to supporting the updating and maintenance of the data, much of which can be accessed online at http://mrdata.usgs.gov. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of reliable geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral locality data for the United States.
USGS Research Provides Sound Basis For Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) Decisions
Release of the 2-volume study of the Animas River Basin, Colorado, Integrated investigations of environmental effects of historical mining in the Animas River watershed, San Juan County, Colorado, represents a long-term USGS commitment to provide science to land managers faced with clean up of abandoned mine lands. This integrated scientific study identifies basins in the Animas River watershed that are key to improving water quality and aquatic habitats in a mineral-rich region that has been mined since the 1870s. The ARSG, which includes representatives from the USGS as well as the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, State agencies, and local businesses and residents, outlined a watershed assessment strategy, established benchmarks, and has made critical progress towards the goal of improved water quality in the Animas River watershed. As a result of the work of the ARSG, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed not to take any formal Superfund action as long as reclamation was ongoing. Leadership in this work provided by the Mineral Resource Program-supported science is consistent with the goal to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.
Availability of Metals for Military Applications
USGS mineral commodity specialists conduct an annual workshop for students and faculty from the National Defense University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF). The workshop, which this year focused on the aluminum, beryllium, rare earths, rhenium, steel, and titanium industries, is designed to increase the understanding of future leaders in the U.S. military and supporting agencies about the importance of minerals and materials availability, as well as the natural resource considerations required for defense planning and decision making. After this year’s workshop, the Commandant of ICAF, Rear Admiral Gerard M. Mauer, Jr., commended the USGS mineral commodity specialists for their ability to help “our students to understand materials as commodities, and as strategic items that are often critical to defense needs.” This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of long-term data sets describing mineral production and consumption.
Work of MRP-supported Geophysicists Recognized by Department of Interior
Geophysical analysis was key to the effort to close and remediate the Exell Helium Plant near Amarillo, Texas, an effort led by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Using techniques developed for nonfuel mineral resource and geoenvironmental assessments, USGS scientists were able to delineate anomalous concentrations of subsurface organic contaminants. Analysis of the geophysical data greatly facilitated the cleanup of a plant constructed during World War II to supply helium for military operations. This BLM-led project is an example of how USGS provides science support to DOI land management agencies and the project was the recipient of one of the 2007 Department of the Interior's Environmental Achievement Awards. This work was possible because of the MRP goal to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.
Geophysical Survey for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Chemical agent identification sets (CAIS), seen here, were used until the 1960’s for safely training soldiers in the identification of chemical agents. Techniques developed for mineral resource assessments were instrumental in the identification and cleanup of long-forgotten disposal sites.
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge located near Cherokee, OK, and established in 1930 and named for the geologic feature that encompasses about one third of the Refuge. T he salt plains are an 11,000-acre barren area that is near perfectly flat with a wafer thin salt crust. Formed by repeated flooding by seawater over several million years, the area was cut off from the sea, the water evaporated, and thick layers of salt were deposited and subsequently covered. The Wildlife Refuge has been a tourist attraction for decades for people interested in wildlife, particularly birds, and in selinite salt crystals formed by the movement of ground water under the salt plain. In 2007, the site was temporarily closed after a visitor digging for selenite crystals was injured by a chemical agent identification set (CAIS) which was uncovered and broken open. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for identification and disposal of the CAIS units contracted with the USGS for an electromagnetic (EM) survey to aid in the identification of disposal pits. Interpretation of the approximately 300-acre EM survey resulted in identification of 22 potential disposal pits as well as metal fragments associated with incendiary bombs used to destroy the CAIS vials. Developed as a tool for mineral resource assessments, EM surveys are a technology that has proved to be extremely successful in identifying wide range of materials underground. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits .
Critical Minerals and the U.S. Economy
The Mineral Resources Program (MRP) partnered with the National Mining Association to sponsor a new study by the National Research Council of the National Academies on Minerals, critical minerals, and the U.S. economy, as part of a larger MRP effort to prioritize future work of the Program. This study, together with a coincident study of the National Defense Stockpile, provides external perspectives to the effort currently underway in MRP, as outlined in the Program's current 5-year plan, to prepare for an updated mineral resource assessment of the United States. The new report concluded that any mineral could at some point become critical to the economy or national security, depending on its uses and availability. And as a result, decision makers in both public and private sectors need continuous, unbiased, and thorough information on the uses and possible supply restrictions of nonfuel minerals, but currently the federal government and the industries that use these minerals do not collect these data with enough detail or frequency, the report on critical minerals notes. This study adds to a number of previous National Academy studies that have contributed to the focus and composition of the Mineral Resources Program by providing a review by distinguished colleagues with a range of backgrounds and perspectives.
Geophysical Tools Used to Understand Water Resources in Eastern Nebraska
Understanding the relationship between surface- and ground-water systems in eastern Nebraska is critical to understanding water resources and developing water management programs. In the spring of 2007, MRP-supported geophysicists conducted an airborne resistivity and magnetic (helicopter electromagnetic) survey and follow-up ground surveys designed to characterize and map the hydrogeology in three glacial terrains in eastern Nebraska and to evaluate helicopter electromagnetic surveying as a tool for mapping hydrogeology in different glacial terrains. The work was part of the Eastern Nebraska Water Resources Assessment (ENWRA), a joint State of Nebraska and USGS study designed to understand the connection between ground and surface water resources, delineate the aquifer that supplies water to 70 percent of the population of Nebraska, and investigate the impacts of agriculture, salt water intrusion, and the point source contamination on the aquifer. The results of the geophysical study are currently being integrated into the Nebraska water management plan. This work is possible because of the Mineral Resource Program continuing goal to ensure availability of scientific facilities and services required to achieve MRP goals.
Training—A Key Component of Mineral Resource Assessment of Mauritania
USGS scientists participate in intensive training in use of quantitative mineral resource assessment techniques developed at the USGS.
Scientists funded by the Mineral Resources Program are currently participating in a World Bank-sponsored mineral resource assessment of Mauritania. Training in USGS assessment techniques was the key objective that was realized this year. During the month of June, geologists and geophysicists from Mauritania traveled to Denver for intensive training in the use of quantitative assessment techniques developed at the USGS. In the fall, a group of 5 USGS scientists visited Mauritania to continue the training in assessment methods and visit selected mineral deposits and prospects. Understanding the regional geology and identifying known mineral deposits are essential steps in successfully conducting a mineral resource assessment in Mauritania. This work is possible because of the Mineral Resource Program goal to ensure availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits.