Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) Data Acquisition and Coordination

Science Center Objects

Project goal is to provide the scientific foundation for the entire Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) to develop a consistent method for prioritizing areas for the new national-scale data acquisition needed to identify undiscovered critical mineral resources. USGS, in coordination with State Geological Surveys, is acquiring new topographic, geologic mapping, and geophysical data to help characterize distribution of critical minerals and identify areas in which more data would improve understanding of critical mineral potential.

Science Issue and Relevance

Earth MRI data and applications graphic

Figure 1 from USGS Fact Sheet 2019-3007 The Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI): Mapping the Nation’s Critical Mineral Resources.

Figure 1. Planned applications for data acquired during the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI). Images are from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Sources for images in left column, from top to bottom: Topography: lidar image of Bingham Canyon open-pit mine, Utah (from USGS); Geology: State Geologic Map Compilation geodatabase (USGS Data Series 1052); Geophysics: aeromagnetic map of part of Colorado (USGS Open-File Report 01–0364); Geochemistry: soil geochemical landscapes of the conterminous United States (USGS Open-File Report 2014–1082); Mineral deposit databases: rare earth element production and resource sites in the United States (USMIN database); Coreholes: drill core of granite (from USGS). USGS databases: ARDF, Alaska Resource Data File; MRDS, Mineral Resources Data System; USMIN, USGS Mineral Deposit Database.

(Credit: Warren Day, USGS. Public domain.)

The Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) is an outgrowth of Executive Order 13817 - A Federal Strategy To Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals and Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3359 - Critical Mineral Independence and Security, which directed the USGS to develop a plan to improve the Nation's understanding of domestic critical mineral resources.

The USGS's initial role is to develop a plan for acquiring geologic, geophysical, and topographic data to help characterize the distribution of critical minerals and identify areas in which more data would improve our understanding of undiscovered critical mineral resources as well as be applied to meet other national, regional or local needs. The Mineral Resources Program is partnering with the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, the National Geospatial Program, the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program, the Energy Resources Program, and State Geological Surveys to coordinate collection, interpretation, and dissemination of 3-dimensional geologic, geophysical, and topographic data across the Nation. 


Goal: Develop a consistent and transparent method for prioritization of areas for new data acquisition at the national scale.

Outcome: A first ever national-scale identification of focus areas permissive for hosting critical minerals.

Approach: Use a "minerals systems" approach at the regional scale to inventory information and outline focus area tracts; this will guide data acquisition and allow aggregation at the national scale.

  • Minerals Systems Approach: A framework summarizing the numerous relevant mineral deposit models that are known to host critical minerals into an abbreviated summary of deposit characteristics, exploration criteria, critical mineral products, byproducts, and coproducts, and geophysical techniques. 
  • Four Regional Working Groups: Four regional working groups of scientists from the USGS and State Geological Surveys (Eastern, Central, Western, Alaska) were formed and assigned teams of experts. These teams defined focus areas (spatial tracts) based on mineral systems, deposit types, status of mining, production history, etc., to identify areas permissive for hosting critical mineral-bearing deposit types, which if developed, would have significant impact on domestic critical mineral supply.
  • Define Final Areas for Mapping: USGS worked with State Geological Surveys to determine final areas for mapping
  • Data Acquisition: Earth MRI funding was deployed for data acquisition during Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 to map 14 different areas and collect five major geophysical surveys.
  • Data Delivery: Earth MRI is developing a single electronic access point through which data collected with Earth MRI funds will be available to the public.

Focus for Fiscal Years 2019-2020

Rare Earth Element (REE) Deposit Types

  • Alkaline/peralkaline igneous systems
  • Carbonatites
  • Iron oxide-apatite (IOA) and iron oxide-copper-gold (IOCG) deposits
  • Paleoplacers
  • Regolith-hosted rare earth elements 

Data Being Collected

  • Geologic mapping
  • Geophysics
  • Topographic (LiDAR) data
Image shows a map of the United States with varying coverage of aeromagnetic surveys

Assessment of the quality of existing aeromagnetic surveys for the United States, with rank 1 indicating the best quality and rank 5 indicating the worst. The map results from the ranking scheme applied to each public aeromagnetic survey by Eric Anderson, Ben Drenth, V. J. S. Grauch, Anne McCafferty, Anji Shah, and Dan Scheirer of the USGS. From Drenth and Grauch, 2019,Eos.

(Public domain.)

Mountain Pass rare earth element mine, California

Mountain Pass rare earth element mine, California, June 2018. The ore body, called the Sulphide Queen deposit, is a large tabular carbonatite intrusion, thought to be the largest rare earth element deposit in the United States. The deposit was discovered in 1949.

(Credit: Bradley Van Gosen, USGS. Public domain.)