USGS - science for a changing world

GMEG - Mineral and Environmental Resources

Probabilistic mineral assessment research & development

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Project summary:

Probabilistic mineral resource assessments performed by the USGS estimate the amount of undiscovered resources, and the uncertainty associated with the estimate, of particular commodities within an area. The assessments range in scale from global to national to region, with their intended audience having a similar range from international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and Congress to federal intelligence agencies to local federal offices and state agencies. The assessment information can influence foreign policy decisions, but are mostly used by land managers in formulating land-use policies and decisions. Over the past 25 years, grade, tonnage, and density models were developed for the more common ore-deposit-types, in order to reduce uncertainties in the assessment process. This research has produced about 250 descriptive deposit models, between 175 and 200 grade and tonnage models, numerous deposit density models, and established guidelines for estimating of number of deposits within a particular study area. Despite these progressive efforts, many opportunities still remain to develop new procedures, models and guidelines that will reduce, but never totally eliminate the associated uncertainties and risks.

Over the past decade, three major issues that pertain to mineral resources have merged;

  1. the world’s developing nations are consuming mineral resources at exponential rates, placing demands on limited resources and escalating the prices for these raw materials. Competition for these commodities, together with loss of access, and increased cost may impact the US economy and may have security implications.
  2. the ever-expanding urban areas and land condemnation for other uses within the US are encroaching on federal, state and privately held lands where undiscovered mineral resources may reside and, once urbanized or otherwise condemned, the resources may not be developed.
  3. the US has grown increasingly environmentally conscious and, as a result, more federal, state and privately held lands are being withdrawn from mineral development without regard to their potential resources and land managers are being required to assess the environmental impact of resource development and to develop plans for site remediation during the permitting process.

The USGS Mineral Resources Program is chartered to provide Congress and federal and state agencies with sufficient information on the mineral resource potential within various parts of the world and the U.S., and even within particular land tracts that are being considered for urbanization, wildlife refuge, or industrial exploitation, such that these entities can make informed decisions on land use and national security issues. This project provides the fundamental tools by which the federal government assesses the potential mineral resources within a particular region. The assessments are no more complete or accurate than the tools and models used in the assessment and, therefore, the tools require continued improvements in order to reduce uncertainty and risk in their application within the context of ever-evolving principles of deposit genesis and occurrence and dynamic exploitation economics.

 

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