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The U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Resources Program Five-Year Plan, 2006-2010

Five-year goals

Research and Assessments

Long-term goal 3: Ensure availability of reliable geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral locality data for the United States

Five-year goals:

  1. Complete data collection for all four data types at a scale suitable for regional analysis (approximately $2.5 million in FY 2006)
  2. Complete regional analysis using newly populated data sets (approximately $900,000 in FY 2006; almost $3 million in FY 2007 and beyond)
  3. Conduct research resulting in basic geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral potential information for frontier areas of the United States (approximately $3.2 million/year)
  4. Establish peer-reviewed protocols for a new soil geochemical survey of the United States and begin sample collecting phase (approximately $1 million in FY 2006, increasing to approximately $3 million in FY 2010)
  5. Maintain and disseminate databases for geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral locality data (approximately $1.7 million/year)

Two recent National Research Council reports pointed to the importance of documenting national geochemical baselines and backgrounds as a basis against which to measure ecosystem status in the future (National Research Council, 1996a, p. 33-36; National Research Council, 2001, p. 112). MRP undertook this challenge beginning in FY 1997 and expects to complete data collection in FY 2006 and 2007. The data are being made available via the World Wide Web when quality assurance and quality control procedures are completed. Analysis of these rich new data sets by USGS scientists and others will provide tools for recognizing the most environmentally challenged parts of the country, as well as for establishing realistic remediation goals that are specific to local conditions. Having these data will significantly improve MRP's next national mineral resource assessment (see long-term goal 1), and will assist land managers with identifying site-specific anomalies as they plan for development of roads, mine sites, quarries, and other infrastructure. These basic data are essential to MRP's continued progress in improving the information base from which DOI can manage or influence resource use (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2003, p. 39)

Many areas in the United States have been well studied and have modern geologic maps, recent geochemical and geophysical surveys, and up-to-date inventories of known mineral localities. However, Alaska has these critical data for only select areas. The bulk of the state is genuinely a frontier area with respect to geologic information. For example, regional scale geologic data for large tracts of the state (e.g., much of southwestern Alaska) is based on reconnaissance studies completed 30 or more years ago. Geochemical stream-sediment sample sites for parts of the state are so widely spaced (e.g., 1 per 100 mi²) that metallogenic trends cannot be recognized. Airborne geophysical data were collected along flightlines spaced no closer than 6 miles over large areas. The mineral endowment of large tracts of Alaska is thought to be high based on what little is known, but less uncertainty in resource estimates requires data of all kinds at larger map scales. Collection of new baseline geologic, geochemical and geophysical data in these regions has the high probability of revealing undiscovered mineral resources that will add to the Nation's mineral supplies.

With the completion of national-scale data collection for stream-sediment geochemistry in FY 2006 and 2007, MRP has the opportunity to address a challenge identified by the National Research Council (NRC) in its report Evolutionary and Revolutionary Technologies for Mining (2002, p. 21). In that report, the NRC stated that increased efficiencies could be realized in minerals exploration if there were a more thorough understanding of the complex processes that result in soil formation and the behavior of various elements in different soil types…In addition, they noted that research in soil science could produce significant spin-offs that would affect geochemical exploration and would contribute to a more thorough understanding of soil ecology for agriculture. Other opportunities in soil science include increased understanding of how organisms concentrate metals, and understanding how the presence of specific organisms or suites of organisms can be used as indicators of processes occurring in soils.

U.S. map of soil geochemistry.
The only comprehensive, national-scale soil geochemical data for the US result from opportunistic collection of 1,323 samples at these sites between 1958 and 1976. MRP and partner agencies have begun the process of determining how best to update this critical data set using modern sampling and analytical methods, in order to provide baseline data essential to understanding variability in chemical composition of the Nation's soils.

These challenges can be addressed by MRP scientists and partners from other Federal agencies, academia, and state geological surveys as part of a planned new national soil geochemical survey. A collaborative planning process began with a workshop in FY 2003 and continues through pilot studies underway through FY 2006. By the end of FY 2006, MRP intends to have convened a review panel to identify research opportunities that will be available when new data are available using the protocols for sample collection, analysis, and sample and data management. Migration of funds towards this activity will begin in FY 2007, with a goal of allocating enough funds so that routine sample collection, the most costly part of national-scale database development, can begin. Total time required to complete sample collection and analysis will depend on funding.

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