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FY2008 Mineral Resources Program Accomplishments

USGS Research Improves Cyanide Management

Graphic showing rainbow trout

Exposing rainbow trout to cyanide-cobalt complexes in the laboratory showed that toxicity is low in darkness (high LC50 value), but increases substantially under sunlight-simulating UV light (low LC50 value). The high toxicity reflects breakdown of the complex to form highly toxic free cyanide.

Cyanide is an effective metallurgical agent that liberates gold cheaply and efficiently from mined ores, but it can also be toxic to wildlife. Recently completed USGS research demonstrates that the environmental risk posed by using cyanide to process gold ores might be diminished if closer attention were paid to monitoring and remediation of cyanide-cobalt complexes. These complexes result from the trace amounts of cobalt that are found in many gold ores, and appear under some circumstances to be longer lived than other cyanide-metal complexes. In case studies of mining operations in three western states, improved analytical techniques developed in MRP-supported laboratories allowed recognition of a cyanide-cobalt complex that older methods could not detect. Toxicity tests using rainbow trout and freshwater crustaceans revealed that the cyanide-cobalt complex is not especially hazardous to aquatic life, but that exposure to sunlight causes the complex to break down and then release cyanide in a highly toxic form. Domestic gold production, which in 2007 placed the United States fourth among gold-producing nations, relies heavily on mines located on Federal, State, and private lands that employ cyanide heap leach technology to extract gold from ore. Because cyanide presents possible environmental consequences to wildlife, regulations require removal of cyanide from waters discharged from both active and inactive mine sites. The improved analytical methods developed at the USGS make it possible to routinely detect low levels of cyanide-cobalt complexes as part of improved water treatment and site remediation at active and abandoned mine sites. The capability to conduct these studies was possible because of the continuing goal of the Mineral Resources Program (MRP) to ensure availability of scientific facilities and services required to achieve MRP goals.

Central Colorado Assessment Project: Geoscience for Mineral Resource and Environmental Assessments of Public Lands

Photo of sampling macroinvertebrates
Sampling macroinvertebrates to investigate the effects of bedrock geochemistry and hydrothermal alteration on benthic fauna as part of the Central Colorado Assessment Project.
Central Colorado remains one of the fastest growing regions in the western United States. Population growth has caused tremendous pressure on a variety of natural resources and has created many land management issues for local, State, and Federal government agencies. One of the principal land management agencies in the area, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (FS), requested studies of four National Forests in central Colorado in preparation for their cyclic forest planning efforts. Compilation of newly acquired data and the results of past studies provided the FS with accurate and up-to-date earth science data, that are compatible with existing FS GIS (Geographic Information Systems) layers used in their planning process. Selected spatial data layers delivered include geology (seamless geologic maps at the scale of 1:100,000), geochemistry (rock and stream sediment data), geophysics (magnetic, filtered magnetic, gravity, filtered gravity, airborne radiometric), remote sensing, locations of known mineral deposits with claim history, and rock age determinations. The FS will use this new geoscience data to better understand the distribution of metallic, industrial mineral resources that may have potential for development, as well as the geochemical and environmental effects of historic mining activity on surface and ground water and aquatic life. The study area includes much of the Colorado Mineral Belt, a northeast-trending zone in central Colorado that has provided much of Colorado’s historical metal production and continues to provide most of the State’s metal production. This work supports the Mineral Resources Program goal of ensuring availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits.

Understanding Near-Surface Processes in Mineral Systems

While the spatial extent of mineral deposits can be determined with some certainty by exploration drilling, mining, and other methods, the extent of the environmental effects of specific deposits depends on a number of processes and properties of the physical system. The environmental footprint of a mineral deposit depends on the composition of the deposit, local climate, and local and regional geology. A recently completed project used new analytical results to characterize the pre-mining footprint of selected large copper and base-metal deposits that are common in the U.S. More than 11,400 mineral, water, sediment, vegetation, and ecosystem samples from more than 3,000 field sites, primarily on Federal lands, were collected and more than 430,000 analyses were conducted. The synthesis of these analytical results will aid State and Federal government agencies responsible for management of lands with mineral deposits, those in industry who develop mitigation, remediation and monitoring strategies, as well as anyone who needs to distinguish the effects of mining from those caused by natural processes, such as weathering. The analyses are the basis of ongoing research to develop models of stream-water quality that is influenced by geologic factors, such as mineralization, alteration, and variations in rock type. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.

Undiscovered Mineral Resources in the Andes

A new mineral resource assessment of the Andes Mountains of South America identified the potential for undiscovered deposits of porphyry copper with associated molybdenum, gold, and silver. The Andes were studied as part of the first global mineral resource assessment, which is being led by USGS scientists supported by the Mineral Resources Program. The USGS jointly prepared and published the Andes assessment with experts from the Geological Surveys of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. The assessment estimates that the Andes may hold 750 million metric tons of copper in undiscovered porphyry copper deposits. Mining from these types of deposits provides more than 50 percent of world copper supply. The estimated copper resources in Andes represent about 2.5 times the amount of undiscovered copper resources estimated for the United States in a 1998 USGS study of all major types of copper deposits. In addition, the undiscovered porphyry copper deposits in the Andes also have the potential for 20 million tons of molybdenum, 13,000 tons of gold, and 250,000 tons of silver. Molybdenum, known to occur as a potential byproduct within porphyry copper deposits, is used in industry to harden steel. Estimated undiscovered molybdenum resources in the Andes represent more than double the current world reserves of 8.6 million tons. Not all of the estimated undiscovered deposits are likely to be discovered and developed. A complete report on this study is available on-line at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1253. The capability to conduct this assessment was possible because of the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits.

U.S. Mineral Production Data

Domestic mineral data collected by the USGS through voluntary cooperation of the mineral industry are used by the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors to prepare its monthly index of industrial production, a principal economic indicator. "We find the data, analysis and assistance provided by the USGS to be invaluable in the preparation of the indexes of industrial production and of capacity," said Norman J. Morin, senior economist with the Federal Reserve System. "The USGS data add appreciably to the product content of industrial production and, moreover, are in an area where no data are otherwise available." The USGS data are published in a quarterly report in the same form they are provided to the Federal Reserve System on a quarterly basis. To see the reports, visit http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/mis.html. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of long-term data sets describing mineral production and consumption.

Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan

Map of Afghanistan showing mineralized areas recommended for further study

Map of Afghanistan showing mineralized areas recommended for further study (rectangular areas), known non-fuel mineral deposits and prospects (small dots), and selected mineral deposits for which resources have been published in the past (various symbols).

Afghanistan has significant amounts of undiscovered non-fuel mineral resources according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2007 assessment. USGS scientists worked cooperatively with the Afghanistan Geological Survey of the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines, between 2004 and 2007, to compile existing information about known mineral deposits and evaluate the possible occurrence of undiscovered deposits of non-fuel mineral resources. This assessment will be used in rebuilding Afghanistan’s natural resources sector, provide valuable new information to the global business and mining communities, and serve as a foundation for future work on areas of mineral resource potential. “Afghanistan’s natural resources have a quality comparable to the highest-class minerals of the entire region,” said Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States Said T. Jawad. “We are grateful to the efforts of the USGS and our Ministry of Mines in allowing global investors an opportunity to receive the latest information on their assessment for more informed business decisions.” The USGS was commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to develop this assessment. Results of the 2007 preliminary assessment of non-fuel mineral resources of Afghanistan are available at the USGS Afghanistan Web site, http://afghanistan.cr.usgs.gov, and at the Afghanistan Geological Survey Web site, http://www.bgs.ac.uk/afghanminerals/. The capability to conduct this assessment was possible because of the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits.

MRP Researchers Supports NASA’s Initiative to Return to the Moon

Photo of prototype simulate lunar regolith (soil) identified as NU-LHT-2M

Sample of prototype simulate lunar regolith (soil) identified as NU-LHT-2M.

NASA, in cooperation with the USGS, has begun work to identify materials that can be used to simulate lunar regolith (soil) and produce quantities of the material in support of NASA’s plans for future lunar exploration and construction of a permanent installation. As part of this work, USGS researchers have identified appropriate geologic and synthetic source materials on Earth, developed new technologies to produce synthetic lunar materials, and produced prototype simulates for NASA engineers and scientists. Following extensive research to identify an acceptable mix of materials, USGS scientists began preparing quantities of the simulated lunar material for NASA, whose next phase of study will look at developing technology and production plans for construction. The high-fidelity simulate developed in MRP-supported laboratories combines selected materials from the Stillwater mine at Nye, Montana, with a critical component that cannot be duplicated naturally on Earth. This additional component, called agglutinate, is a partially melted, highly vesicular, glass material that is produced on the moon by impacts of micrometeorites on the lunar surface. Using high temperature plasma technology the USGS, in collaboration with Zybeck Advanced Products, has patented the first procedure capable of producing agglutinates at hundreds of pounds per day. Duplicating this lunar glass material is important, because it is are believed to have important implications for excavation, transportation, oxygen production, and human health. This work was possible because of capabilities in the Mineral Resources Program that support the goal of ensuring availability of scientific facilities and services required to achieve MRP goals.

New Map of Southern Brooks Range, Alaska

Photo of the southern Brooks Range, Alaska.

Looking south toward the upper Ipnelivik River drainage, eastern Ambler River quadrangle in the southern Brooks Range, Alaska.

A new geologic map and accompanying digital databases for the southern Brooks Range, Alaska, depict the deepest deformed and oldest known rocks in the Brooks Range. The area is vast (700 × 120 km) and encompasses significant parts of three National Park Service (NPS) units (Gates of the Arctic National Park, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Noatak National Preserve). Parts of the map cover the NPS units scheduled to be incorporated into the digital resources inventory of the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program. The digital map data are also a significant component of the Circum-Arctic geologic map that is being produced for the International Polar Year 2007–2008. Several mineral districts with gold, copper, lead, and zinc deposits that occur within the map area are under active exploration; the map provides the first modern synthesis of the setting of those deposits. The 1:500,000-scale map and digital data bases, which synthesize mapping and research that has occurred since the 1950’s, are available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1149/. This work supports the Mineral Resources Program goal of ensuring availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits.

Natural Perchlorate Research Recognized With Award for Technical Excellence

Photo of exposed section of caliche in New Mexico.

Samples collected from this exposed section of caliche in New Mexico contained 2-96 ppb (parts per billion) perchlorate. This study determined that caliche generally shows higher perchlorate contents than most soils.

In December 2007, the Department of Defense (DOD) Strategic Research and Development Program recognized research conducted jointly by the USGS, U.S. Air Force, and Texas Tech University on natural perchlorate as the Project-of-the-Year in the Environmental Restoration Focus Area. The annual award recognizes work that exhibits technical excellence and at the same time supports the mission of DOD by improving environmental performance. Perchlorate (ClO4-), a chemical composed of chlorine and oxygen, is a powerful oxidant that may be naturally occurring or manmade. The research recognized with the award successfully demonstrated that natural perchlorate occurs in the United States and proposed mechanisms for its formation and concentration. Perchlorate is a highly soluble and extremely mobile substance that can persist in the environment and this research shows that natural perchlorate occurrences are widespread, especially in semi-arid to arid climates. Perchlorate is of interest because, although it is not a carcinogen and is not stored in or metabolized by the human body, it can interfere with iodide uptake in the thyroid. The successful ongoing collaboration has provided a scientific basis for the regulation of perchlorate as a contaminant, as well as increased the understanding of its distribution and occurrence in soils, sediments, plants, and water, both now and in the geologic past. The capability to participate in these studies was possible because of the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of up-to-date geoenvironmental assessments of priority Federal lands.

Geophysical Data Collected by MRP Scientists to Aid Afghanistan Reconstruction

Photo of Navel Research Laboratory NP-3D “Orion” at Kandahar International Airport, Afghanistan

The Navel Research Laboratory NP-3D “Orion” taxiing at Kandahar International Airport, June 2006.

USGS scientists conducted an airborne geophysical and photographic survey of Afghanistan during the summer of 2006. The data, released by the USGS in April 2008, provide valuable new information to help identify fault lines and the potential location of undiscovered water, oil and gas, and non-fuel mineral resources in the country. Researchers combined the geophysical data with data from previous studies to create a magnetic anomaly map and a gravity anomaly map of Afghanistan. Airborne magnetic surveys provide a way to see through surface layers, such as sand, vegetation and water. They are a powerful tool for documenting the distribution and relative abundance of magnetic minerals in rocks—information that can help with mineral and petroleum exploration, tectonic interpretations, and seismic hazard assessments. Airborne gravity surveys help identify igneous rocks (rocks produced through intense heat) of interest for mineral resource studies, sedimentary basins for petroleum and water resource studies, and linear features for seismic hazard studies. The aerial photographs have many geologic and civil uses. They can help with the inventory and planning of civil infrastructure and agricultural resources and the development of detailed maps. In this effort, USGS scientists worked cooperatively with the Naval Research Laboratory, Afghanistan Geological Survey, Afghanistan Head Office for Geodesy and Cartography, personnel from the NRL Scientific Development Squadron ONE (VXS-1), Afghanistan Ministry of Mines and Industry, and the Canadian Forces Mapping and Charting Establishment. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan commissioned the USGS to conduct this survey to assist in the reconstruction efforts of Afghanistan and to complement the resource assessments coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Additional information, including images, maps and data, on the USGS airborne geophysical and photographic survey of Afghanistan can be found at http://afghanistan.cr.usgs.gov/airborne.php. Information on USGS projects in Afghanistan is available at http://afghanistan.cr.usgs.gov. This work was possible because of capabilities in the Mineral Resources Program that support the goal of ensuring availability of up-to-date quantitative assessments of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits.

MRP Scientists Recognized for Contributing to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize

USGS mineral commodity specialists M. Michael Miller and Hendrik G. van Oss were among hundreds of scientists from all regions of the planet who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize when it was awarded to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for its work to “build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract the change.” Publication of a methodology to estimate carbon dioxide emissions from cement plants by van Oss resulted in the opportunity to partner with colleagues at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the IPCC to establish greenhouse gas inventory calculation protocols and to estimate emissions from the cement, iron and steel, and lime industries. Miller and van Oss contributed to IPCC publications 2000 Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories and 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. The IPCC, established in 1988 by the U.N. General Assembly to provide decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Albert A. Gore, Jr. This work supports the goal of the Mineral Resources Program to ensure availability of long-term data sets describing mineral production and consumption.

Award Recognizes Animas Watershed Improvements

The Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) was recognized by Secretary Dirk Kempthorne with the Department of the Interior's Cooperative Conservation Award for significant improvements to water quality and aquatic habitat in Colorado's Animas River watershed. The award recognizes the strength of collaborative activities such as those of the ARSG, which brought together perspectives from local stakeholders, including land owners and mine operators, with those of Federal and State agencies. As part of the ARSG effort, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey studied the geology of the watershed and the effects of historical mining on water and sediment quality and aquatic and riparian habitat. Research results were used to identify cost-effective strategies to prioritize restoration of individual abandoned mine sites. One review of the USGS studies states that “this two volume set should be required reading for anyone involved in investigating the environmental efforts of historical mining on a watershed.” The USGS studies can be found at http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1651/. 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.

5-Year Anniversary—MRP Supports External Research

The Mineral Resources External Research Program (MRERP) was established in 2004 to facilitate USGS support for mineral resource research outside of the Federal government. Since 2004, MRERP has funded thirty different proposals by researchers at twenty-six academic, state government, and private organizations, from Alaska to Florida. Research topics have ranged from deposit genesis studies to regional framework studies and from mineral environmental aspects of legacy mining to studies of materials flow through the U.S. economy. The MRP uses the results of MRERP-supported research to advance on-going MRP-funded research, often through collaboration of MRP scientists with external partners participating in MRERP research. For more information on the MRERP, visit http://minerals.usgs.gov/mrerp/index.html.

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