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Assessing undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources in southeast Asia, Australia, and the western Pacific

Stephen G. Peters and Judy Back

What is going on now?

Assessing undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources in southeast Asia, Australia, and the western Pacific is an important part of the Global Mineral Resource Assessment Project (GMRAP). The overall GMRAP project is divided by commodity type and by geographic region. For more information about GMRAP, see the September 2002 issue of USGS Minerals News or visit the project web site: The southeast Asia, Australia, and western Pacific region includes the countries of Australia, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, East Timor, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Marshal Islands, Nauru, Nepal, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Pitcairn Islands, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Map showing southeast Asia, Australia, and western Pacific study area region for the Global Mineral Resource Assessment Project.
Southeast Asia, Australia, and western Pacific study region. Red dots show locations of major ore deposits.

Project members have begun compiling the data needed to outline principal areas in the region that have the potential for selected undiscovered mineral resources and estimating the probable amounts of those mineral resources to a depth of 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) below the Earth's surface. The project will initially undertake assessments of copper, platinum-group metals, and potassium (or potash) resources. Subsequent assessments will consider lead, zinc, nickel, gold, phosphorous (or phosphate), and tin.

What is the region like?

The region stretches from mountainous areas, such as the Himalayan Mountains and Tibetan Plateau in the west, to the continent of Australia, to numerous island nations and the island arcs of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. This large region contains a variety of topographies and climates and is composed of numerous geologic environments and rock types.

The geology of the region is complex and is represented by rocks of all eons of Earth history. The geologic framework is the result of long, complex periods of volcanism, igneous intrusion, sedimentation, and tectonic activity. These processes have resulted in ancient and recent mountain chains, folded belts, and broad sedimentary basins. These processes have also led to the formation of important ore deposits are present in this region.

Southeast Asia, Australia, and the western Pacific are composed of a number of tectonic plates that have come together over the past 15 million years. Australia and southern India are contained in the Indo-Australian Plate, which lies south of and is colliding with the Eurasian Plate to the north. The eastern, oceanic part of Asia is composed of the Pacific Plate and the smaller Philippine Plate, which are converging to the west against the Eurasian and Indio-Australian Plates. The Himalayan Mountains are uplifted where continental crust of the Indio-Australian and Eurasian Plates collide. Oceanic crust is being subducted down trenches along the island arc of Indonesia and along the western margins of the Pacific Plate. The collision zones near the trenches are marked by earthquakes, volcanoes, and mineralizing hot springs. Extensive weathering under tropical conditions has produced large zones of laterite in many parts of the region.

New partnership with CCOP

GMRAP has formalized a joint project with the Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia (CCOP, CCOP is an intergovernmental organization that consists of 11 member countries (Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam); it is supported by 14 cooperating countries and several international organizations. The CCOP was founded under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 1966 to enhance cooperation, economic development, and the flow of technical information among the member nations.

GMRAP is planning a series of workshops for the CCOP member countries and members of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC, between 2003 and 2007. The first workshop with CCOP was held February 10-13, 2003, in Bangkok, Thailand. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Thailand Department of Mineral Resources and focused on discussiions of assessment methodology and the known mineral resources of the participating countries. The wordshop concluded with development of a work plan for the assessment effort in the region.

How will our new partnerships work?

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will provide overall coordination of the assessment effort and help to facilitate workshops and working group meetings. In addition, the USGS will compile regional products into a global mineral resource assessment and conduct the quantitative assessment of undiscovered mineral resources. Finally, in conjunction with international cooperators, the USGS will publish assessment products.

International cooperators will help provide geologic maps (scale 1:1,000,000) and related information needed for delineating areas favorable for undiscovered mineral resources as well as provide information on significant mineral deposits and past exploration activities. Because of their expertise, cooperators will also assist in the development of regional geotectonic and metallogenic synthesis, review results of quantitative mineral resource estimates, and assist in the analysis of assessment results with regard to regional resource, land, and environmental issues.

This undertaking will benefit international cooperators by providing them with a consistent, comprehensive level of mineral-resource information and analysis at a regional scale (1:1,000,000). It will also give them regional and global perspectives from which to view their mineral resources and allow them to disseminate their mineral-resource and related information to help promote exploration and manage minerals development.

What are we planning to do?

Now that we have identified national cooperators from the southeast Asia, Australia, and western Pacific region interested in participating in an assessment of nonfuel mineral resources, we will work together to compile and analyze available geologic and mineral-resource information for the region. One of the main ways in which we will accomplish this goal is by conducting workshops on modern quantitative mineral-resource assessment methods and applications and by establishing working groups to begin regional Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-compatible data compilation and analysis. One of the first products, conducted in coordination with the USGS Minerals Information Team (, will be an analysis of current known nonfuel mineral resources in the region.

From 2003 to 2005, we will identify areas (tracts) permissive for undiscovered nonfuel mineral deposits with initial emphasis on copper, platinum-group metals, and potash. Other commodities, such as lead, zinc, silver, and gold, will be evaluated as the project progresses. These efforts will lead to probabilistic estimates of undiscovered mineral resources by deposit type for each of the areas (tracts) delineated.

Nonfuel resources in the region

Country Nonfuel resources
Australia Bauxite aluminum, iron ore, copper, tin, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, magnesite
Bangladesh Titanium
Bhutan Gypsum, calcium carbide
Burma Tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, some marble, limestone, gemstones
Cambodia Gemstones, iron ore, manganese, phosphate
East Timor Gold, manganese, marble
Fiji Gold, copper
India Iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, diamonds, limestone-dolomite-marble, barite, cement, garnet, graphite, rare earth elements, salt, talc, wollastonite
Indonesia Tin, nickel, bauxite aluminum, copper, gold, silver
Laos Gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones, potash
Malaysia Tin, timber, copper, iron ore, bauxite, rare earth elements
Marshall Islands Deep seabed minerals
Nauru Phosphate
Nepal Quartz, copper, cobalt, iron ore
New Caledonia Nickel, chrome, iron, cobalt, manganese, silver, gold, lead, copper
New Zealand Iron ore, sand, gold, limestone
Papua New Guinea Gold, copper, silver, nickel
Philippines Nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt, copper
Pitcairn Islands Offshore manganese, iron, copper, gold, silver, zinc
Solomon Islands Gold, bauxite aluminum, phosphates, lead, zinc, nickel
Sri Lanka Gemstones
Thailand Tin, tungsten, tantalum, lead, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, cement, dolomite, feldspar, salt, kaolin, ball clay
Vietnam Phosphate, manganese, bauxite aluminum, chromate, kaolin, silica sand, rare earth elements


Regional coordinator:

Stephen Peters
U.S. Geological Survey
954 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192

Project chief:

Klaus Schulz
U.S. Geological Survey
954 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192



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