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The USGS is using a set of advanced imaging and analysis tools to study the rocks within the eastern Adirondacks of upstate New York. The goal of these studies is to gain a better understanding of the geology and mineral resources in the area.

Iron mining was common in the Eastern Adirondacks in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the area also contains deposits of rare earth minerals. These elements are used in mobile devices, rechargeable batteries, super-magnets, solar panels and other advanced technologies. In some parts of the Adirondacks these minerals can be found in the discards or tailings from earlier iron and titanium mines.

A combination of geophysical, geochemical, mineralogical, geochronological and mapping approaches is being applied. Geophysical methods help with imaging rock types buried beneath vegetation, soil or other rocks while geochemical, mineralogical and mapping studies are used to determine how rare earth elements and other commodities are distributed within those rocks. Combining these results with geochronological data will help us to understand the tectonic and magmatic history of the region and how the ore deposits formed more than a billion years ago.

magnetite vein
The dark rock below the contact is a vein of magnetite. The magnetic properties of this rock are so strong that a pencil magnet is deflected off vertical. Photo credit: Anjana Shah, USGS.
magnetic susceptibility reading
USGS geophysicist Anjana Shah taking a magnetic susceptibility reading at a rock outcrop. Photo credit: Greg Walsh, USGS.


Project Activities

Geophysical Studies

Airplane used to fly geophysical surveys
Goldak Airborne Surveys used a Cesna Grand Caravan to fly the geophysical surveys. The tail or “stinger” off the back of the plane houses the magnetometer. Having a stinger increases the signal-to-noise ratio of the magnetometer by increasing distance between the sensor and the airplane’s electronics. Photo credit: Anjana Shah, USGS.

Geophysical data can used to image buried rocks from depths just beneath trees and grass to several miles beneath Earth’s surface. Some methods work via measurements of subtle variations in Earth’s magnetic field or gravitational pull. When rocks with different magnetic properties are juxtaposed next to each other, such as an iron-rich gabbro and a quartz sandstone, they generate subtle differences in Earth’s magnetic field that can be detected. In a similar manner, rocks with different densities can generate subtle but measurable variations in Earth’s gravitational pull.

Radiometric methods use special sensors made with sodium iodide or bismuth to detect and measure the energy of naturally occurring gamma particles. Once the energy spectrum is known, relative amounts of potassium, thorium and uranium in rocks within about 1 meter of Earth’s surface can be estimated.

In December 2015, the USGS contracted high-resolution airborne surveys using magnetic and radiometric methods to image rocks buried beneath vegetation, soil, and other rocks in an area west of Lake Champlain. These data are available at

Geochemical and Mineralogical Studies

geologic contact between vein and host rock
USGS geologist Greg Walsh points to a contact between a magnetite vein and host rock. Photo credit: Anjana Shah, USGS.

The iron, titanium, and rare earth element (REE) minerals in the eastern Adirondacks are all components of “iron-oxide apatite” (IOA) mineral deposits. Samples from these deposits and mine tailings will be analyzed for geochemistry and mineralogy using tools such as a scanning electron microprobe (SEM) or a petrographic microscope. These data will help determine the distribution of rare earth elements and co-commodities in the area. Valuable heavy rare earth elements such as terbium and dysprosium (used in advanced electronics) are of particular interest, and have been detected in the region.

Geochronological Studies

The ages of rocks in the study area are being determined by using the mineral zircon, which is often present in trace quantities. Zircon grains are particularly useful for dating studies because they are resistant to alteration by weathering processes, even over millions of years. Zircons can thus record multiple episodes of tectonic or magmatic activity. These episodes appear as layers within a single grain. For example, a zircon grain can have an igneous core (created during magmatism) that is surrounded by dark rims (reflecting rock metamorphism, which is often associated with tectonic events). A scanning electron microscope is used to image the zircon layers. The layers are then dated using a SHRIMP (sensitive high resolution ion microprobe) and applying U-Pb geochronology methods. The SHRIMP has an analytical spot size of 20-30 microns, about one-quarter of the diameter of a human hair.

From these efforts, the history of tectonism, magmatism, and ore deposit formation will be better understood. This in turn will help us understand geologic features and ore formation at other iron-oxide-apatite deposits worldwide.

zircon grains
Zircon grains from a quartz-albite rock in Hammondville, NY. The grains were hand-picked from the rock, embedded in epoxy, ground to about half-thickness, and polished. Left: petrographic microscope transmitted light image showing cracks, inclusions, and age “zones” throughout the grains. Right: SEM (scanning electron microprobe) cathodoluminescence showing zones with different trace element compositions, which, in this case, correspond to differences in age. The cores and rims of the zircon grain reflect magmatic and tectonic events that occurred within the region about 1-1.15 billion years ago. Images by John Aleinikoff, USGS.



Data Release

Shah, A.K., 2016, Airborne Geophysical Surveys over the Eastern Adirondacks, New York State: U.S. Geological Survey data release,


Aleinikoff, J.N., and Walsh, G.J., 2016, SHRIMP U-Pb systematics of zircon from anorthosite, nelsonite, and ilmenite-magnetite ore at the Tahawus mine, Adirondack mountains, NY: Evidence for a younger episode of emplacement, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 48, No. 7 doi:10.1130/abs/2016AM-286511.

Shah, A.K., Walsh, G., Taylor, R., Taylor, C., Aleinikoff, J., Klein, A., Regan, S., and Lupulescu, M., 2016, Geophysical, geochemical, and geological approaches to evaluating rare earth resources in the Eastern Adirondacks, upstate New York, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 48, No. 7, doi:10.1130/abs/2016AM-281761.



scientists in the field
Scientists in the field in the eastern Adirondacks. From left: Peter Valley (SUNY Potsdam), Marian Lupulescu (NYSGS), John Aleinikoff (USGS), Cliff Taylor (USGS), Ryan Taylor (USGS), Greg Walsh (USGS), and Anjana Shah (USGS). Photo credit: Anjana Shah, USGS.

The USGS Mineral Resources Program is working with the USGS National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP), the New York State Geological Survey (NYSGS) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to coordinate geophysical, geochemical and geological analyses.


Further Reading

Geology and mineral resources of the eastern Adirondacks

Fisher, D.W., Isachsen, Y.W., and Rickard, L.V., 1970, Geologic map of New York State, 1970: 1:250,000. Consists of five sheets: Niagara, Finger Lakes, Hudson-Mohawk, Adirondack, and Lower Hudson: Map and Chart Series No. 15, 5 geologic bedrock maps, scale 1:250,000.

Lupulescu, M.V., Price, J.D., and Chiarenzelli, J.R., 2012, Rare-earth-element (REE) and yttrium mineral potential of New York, in Contributed Papers in Specimen Mineralogy: 38th Rochester Mineralogical Symposium Abstracts: Part 3, Rocks & Minerals, v. 87, no. 5, p. 444-454. doi: 10.1080/00357529.2012.716338

Lupulescu, M., 2008, Minerals from the iron deposits of New York State: Rocks and Minerals, v. 83, no. 3, p. 248-266, doi: 10.3200/RMIN.83.3.248-266.

McKeown, F.A. and Klemic, H., 1956, Rare-earth-bearing apatite at Mineville Essex County New York, U.S. Geophysical Survey Billetin 1046-B, p. 9-23,

McLelland, J.M., Selleck, B.W., and Bickford, M.E., 2013, Tectonic evolution of the Adirondack Mountains and Grenville Orogen inliers within the USA: Geoscience Canada, v. 40, p. 318-352. doi: 10.12789/geocanj.2013.40.022

Valley, P.M., Hanchar, J.M., and Whitehouse, M.J., 2011, New insights on the evolution of the Lyon Mountain Granite and associated Kiruna-type magnetite-apatite deposits, Adirondack Mountains, New York State: Geosphere, v. 7, no. 2, p. 357–389. doi: 10.1130/GES00624.1

Rare earth minerals

Long, K.R., Van Gosen, B.S., Foley, N.K., and Cordier, Daniel, 2010, The principal rare earth elements deposits of the United States—A summary of domestic deposits and a global perspective: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5220, 96 p.,

Mariano, A.N., and Mariano, Anthony, Jr., 2012, Rare earth mining and exploration in North America, Elements, v. 8, no. 5, p. 369-376. doi: 10.2113/gselements.8.5.369


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