Guest post: Alaska: final domestic frontiers for mineral resources

Posted on January 06, 2014 by Minerals Make Life

Alaska is one of the final domestic frontiers for mineral resource investigations and discovery. The Mineral Resources Program at USGS is funding several ongoing projects that are conducting basic geologic, geophysical, and geochemical studies to help better understand the regional geologic framework that controls mineral resource occurrence in Alaska.

Bokan Mountain Rare Earth Element Deposit
Rare earth elements are a critical component of many modern technologies but the United States has only one active producing mine (Mountain Pass in California) while China has a near monopoly on global rare earth production. To better understand where and how these deposits are formed, the USGS is examining the mineralogy, the geochemistry, and the genesis of the rare earth element resources at Bokan Mountain, which has a higher concentration of heavy rare earths (HREE) than other known U.S. deposits. Studies include determining (1) the chemical composition of the ore and its host rocks; (2) the minerals in which the rare earth elements are concentrated; (3) how rare earth elements are transported during ore formation (4) when the deposit formed in relation to its host rocks; (5) how the regional geologic framework influenced the timing, composition, and deposition of the HREE ore; and (6) the geophysical signature of the deposit as defined by airborne magnetic and gamma-ray data surveys.  Insights from these studies will result in a new model for REE deposition and refine tools for rare earth element exploration and resource assessment.

Remote Sensing Investigations for Characterizing Mineral Resources
This multi-disciplinary project will develop, test and integrate high-resolution remote sensing data with ground-based geobotanical, geochemical, and geological evidence as a way to define zones of known mineralization in the western Alaskan Range. Scientists will identify potential new exploration targets, characterize the mineral resources of the targets, and define the geoenvironmental footprints. These results will lead to a better understanding of the distribution of precious metal, base metal, and critical mineral supplies in Alaska. The objective of the work is to provide science and information that supports a thriving economy for Alaska by identifying new exploration targets, and improve the use of imaging spectroscopy in mineral resource assessments throughout the United States. This study also will provide the baseline data that can be used to monitor any environmental impacts of future resource development.

Alaska Critical Minerals Cooperative
This year the Mineral Resources Program and the State of Alaska initiated a joint, three-year effort to evaluate Alaska’s minerals for strategic and critical elements (such as rare earth elements and platinum group metals) that are vital to national defense, renewable-energy and emerging technologies.  Pulling information from extensive statewide databases, USGS and Alaska state scientists are using their expertise in regional and economic geology to outline regions of Alaska with the highest potential for critical minerals.  They also will define areas where baseline information is inadequate for such evaluations. Both agencies will conduct follow-up investigations of specific geologic belts and regions. The USGS also will supply data to the Bureau of Land Management for use in the Resource Management Plan for Central Yukon Alaska.

Larry Meinert is the program coordinator for the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Mineral Resources Program. The Mineral Resources Program (MRP) provides scientific information for objective resource assessments and unbiased research results on mineral potential, production, consumption, and environmental effects.

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