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Regional Geologic, Geochemical, Geophysical, and Mineral Deposit Data for Economic Development in Alaska in the 21st Century

Project Chief

Marti L. Miller, 907-786-7437, mlmiller@usgs.gov

Summary

Map of Alaska showing location of study areas

Alaska remains a frontier region with respect to basic geologic, geochemical, and geophysical data. From 1974-1996, the USGS funded a large effort to gather and publish such data in Alaska, using the information to assess the undiscovered mineral-resource potential of large tracts of land. But even at a reconnaissance scale of 1:250,000, data has been collected for less than half of the state. The current strategy is to focus data collection activities on areas of special interest or critical need that have been indentified in consultation with partners and customers. The results of these studies are expected to open the door to exploration, assist in land-use planning, and likely encourage economic development in the state of Alaska.

The first two areas selected for study are the central part of southwestern Alaska and the Seward Peninsula.

Objectives

Arial view of Nushagak River

Relevance and Impact

Much of Alaska's economy is based on the development of its natural resources. However, the lack of basic geologic, geochemical, and geophysical data in many areas of the state has prevented the realistic assessment of the mineral-resource potential in those areas. Results of this project will outline areas favorable for the existence of undiscovered resources, as well as establish geochemical baselines and outline geo-environmental factors specific to the study areas. This information will aid federal, state, Native, and private land managers in making informed decisions related to resource development, while also providing the regional geochemical baselines and geo-environmental characteristics necessary for future development. Moreover, these activities satisfy the requirements of Section 1010 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which directs the Secretary of the Interior to assess the oil, gas, and other mineral potential of all public lands in Alaska.

Beyond issues of economic development, research conducted in conjunction with the basic data collection is expected to significantly change geologists' understanding of the tectonic and stratigraphic setting of poorly mapped parts of Alaska. More data lead to better paleogeographic reconstructions and better definition of tectonic settings. Development of ore deposit models that can be applied more regionally, and perhaps globally, will come with this improved understanding.

Strategy & Approach

Collection of new geologic, geochemical, and geophysical data is important for stimulating economic development in the resource-oriented state of Alaska. Even at the reconnaissance scale of 1:250,000, less than half of Alaska has been covered to date, and government entities and private industry avidly advocate collection of this new data. The two initial focus areas were selected by consideration of geologic, resource, and economic factors, and through consultations with federal and state agencies and private customers. The project is expected to run over a 10-to-15-year period, and future focus areas will be selected through a similar process, but the strategy for selection will remain flexible to account for evolving needs and issues.

Tasks

The project is currently divided into four tasks.

  1. Provide a framework for the project by defining and refining the process by which areas are selected for mapping and data collection.
  2. Address undiscovered base-metal resources and evaluate the metallogenic history of the Seward Peninsula.
  3. Collect, analyze, and synthesize new geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral-deposit data in order to develop a better understanding of the regional geologic framework and mineral potential of the central portion of southwestern Alaska.
  4. Collect, analyze, and synthesize new geochemical data in order to determine elemental backgrounds, baselines, and anomalies that are relevant to the regional geochemical framework and mineral potential of the central portion of southwestern Alaska. Subtasks will address issues of both exploration geochemistry and environmental geochemistry.

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Last Modified: 21 April 2017