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Overview

Two scientists sampling a mineral deposit in Idaho.
Two USGS scientists sampling the unmined, natural Napoleon Ridge porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit along Dump Creek near North Fork, Idaho. From USGS Data Series 433.

Why is USGS doing this research?

Geoenvironmental mineral-deposit models have long been the flagship of environmental research in the Mineral Resources Program (MRP), having been initially defined by Plumlee and Nash (1995, Chapter 1 - USGS OFR-95-831). Over the past twenty years, much progress has been made to advance this effort on a deposit type-by-deposit type basis, focusing on abandoned mine issues, and more recently on future mining issues. The geoenvironmental model concept has received widespread appreciation in the global environmental community.

What research is USGS going to do?

We plan to refine and consolidate geoenvironment models, to permit their advancement.The overall objective of our project is to take the abundant geoenvironmental model research that the Mineral Resources Program has supported, and use it to refine the geoenvironmental model concept to make it more useable for our current stakeholders. We plan to refine the models through integration of existing data, making integrated insights more readily available, with a consistent, base level of information across priority deposit types to enhance the usability of geoenvironmental models.

A limited amount of lab or field studies and networking may be required to fill key data gaps in existing data sets. The prioritization of deposit types will begin with the list of deposit types that form the basis of the recent mineral deposit model efforts.

References

du Bray, E.A., Editor, 1995, Preliminary compilation of descriptive geoenvironmental mineral deposit models: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 95-831, 272 pages. http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1995/ofr-95-0831/.

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Project Activities

Geoenvironmental model redefinition

We are revisiting and analyzing existing datasets, primarily for massive sulfide deposits, using statistical and mathematical approaches, to improve their predictive capabilities.

Mine waste characterization

We are acquiring mill tailings samples representative of various deposit types for mineralogical and geochemical characterization, analyzing for mineralogy, bulk chemistry, and leachate chemistry. We are starting with critical mineral deposit types -- commodities such as rare earths and antimony. Samples that have been acquired include:

  • mine waste from Mountain Pass (rare earths), California (mill tailings, flotation reject material, and bastnasite concentrate);
  • Nechalacho (rare earths), Northwest Territories, Canada (metallurgical testing tailings);
  • Antimony mill tailings (Beaver Brook, Newfoundland, Canada; Pezinok, Slovenia);
  • Duluth Complex copper-nickel-platinum group metal deposit, Minnesota (Mesaba metallurgical testing tailings);
  • Coles Hill uranium, Virginia (metallurgical testing tailings); and
  • carbonate-hosted lead-zinc, high-sulfidation epithermal, and low-sulfidation epithermal tailings (Peru).

Database and web-page development

We will construct an interactive database for geoenvironmental models. A preliminary dataset is currently being assembled to serve as a prototype.

Topical studies and outreach

Project Chief Robert Seal travelled to Lima and Puno, Peru, from July 26 to August 9, 2015, as a US Department of State Fulbright Specialist, to train in geoenvironmental study design and sampling approaches. Dr. Seal worked with the Peruvian Institute of Geology, Mining, and Metallurgy (INGEMMET), and the National University of the Altiplano, to develop expertise in watershed-scale abandoned mine assessment, and pre-mining baseline geochemical characterization of areas prospective for future mining. Dr. Seal also conducted a multi-day workshop at INGEMMET in Lima, gave several lectures and field training at INGEMMET and the Geological Society of Peru, and a collaborative workshop primarily for undergraduate students at the National University of the Altiplano in Puno.

Seal subsequently travelled to Lima, from Feb 27 to March 13, 2016,  to continue the 2015 work, this time focusing on the interpretation and geochemical modeling of previously collected data for both abandoned mine assessment and pre-mining baseline geochemical characterization.

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Products

View of the west side of Red Mountain,
Arizona
View of the west side of Red Mountain, Arizona, showing hydrothermally altered volcanic rocks that overlie porphyry copper deposit that lies about 1,000 meters below the top of the mountain. From USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5070-B.

Presentations

Seal, Robert, 2015, Geoenvironmental approach for assessing environmental risks caused by past and future mining: Conference presented Aug 7, 2015, at the Geological Society of Peru, Miraflores, Peru.

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Project Contact

Robert Seal
Phone: 703-648-6290
Email: rseal@usgs.gov
Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center

Mineral Resources Program Science Priority

The use of firm, trade, and brand names is for identification purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by the U.S. government.

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