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Timothy S. Hayes, 520-670-5024, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alaska's geographic separation and complex tectonic history provide it with a geology unique within the Nation. As a result, it contains mineral resources not common in other parts of the United States, including known or potential occurrences of many of the strategic and critical elements (SCEs) that are vital to national defense, renewable-energy, and emerging electronics technologies. Both geologic mapping and geochemical analyses indicate Alaska has high potential for SCEs such as thorium, niobium, tantalum, indium, gallium, germanium, rare-earth elements, platinum-group metals, tin, manganese, titanium, and vanadium, and assessing these resources will require not only identifying high-potential regions, but also understanding the nature of the mineralization. USGS and Alaska State scientists will use their expertise in geologic mapping, geochemistry, and economic geology to delineate regions of Alaska with the highest potential for SCEs. Knowing where and how these elements occur will allow industry and policy makers in Alaska to focus future land-use decisions and exploration efforts in areas of most immediate impact to national defense and security.
Statewide databases pertaining to geology, geochemistry, mineral occurrences, and geochronology will provide the primary basis for evaluating mineral terranes and SCE potential throughout Alaska. Maps derived from these databases will show the areal distribution of certain elements and delineate areas of anomalous SCE concentrations. This, in turn, will allow the creation of mineral deposit models that are consistent with the regional geology. The USGS will work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to incorporate this data into the Mineral Resources chapters of the BLM's areal Resource Management Plans. In addition to indicating areas of highest SCE potential, the maps will also define areas where baseline data is inadequate for such evaluations, indicating the need for follow-up investigations.
Much of the research required to evaluate SCE potential is dependent on understanding the characteristics of the mineral deposits which host SCEs and the geologic structures and features that control their distribution across Alaska. Two high-priority geologic settings with significant SCE potential are alkaline intrusive rocks (for uranium and thorium) and ultramafic intrusions (for platinum-group metals). Research will focus on delineating belts of these igneous rocks types; evaluating their tectonic, structural and geologic settings; identifying their mineralogy, petrochemistry, and associated lithologies; and determining which ages, suites, and tectonic settings are most likely to host elevated concentrations of SCEs.
The State of Alaska is currently conducting a 3—5 year evaluation of SCE potential on State-owned lands. By having a broader, statewide geologic perspective, USGS scientists can provide expertise in regional mapping, tectonic syntheses, and economic geology to this effort. Under a Letter of Agreement between the State and the USGS, State-collected data will be integrated into USGS databases, and USGS samples from State lands will be re-analyzed for pertinent elements. Cooperation in field programs and the collection of airborne geophysical data is also planned.
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