New Applications of Hyperspectral Imaging to Delineate Critical Minerals Concentrated in Regolith and Mine Waste Materials

Science Center Objects

Our project will develop new and innovative spectral methods and remote sensing tools for understanding how critical minerals are concentrated by weathering, regolith/soil formation, mining, runoff and ore processing. These tools will help us to use mineralogy derived from spectral measurements (lab, field, and remote sensing) to help delineate vectors towards recoverable resources and to identify environmental risks of mine wastes.

Science Issue and Relevance

Critical mineral resources and the impacts of mining them are often controlled, concentrated and modified by the surface weathering and runoff processes. Understanding the spatial distribution and scaling effects needed to detect minerals related to these processes are crucial for developing an outcrop scale understanding of elemental redistribution processes which concentrate critical and scarce mineral resources such as rare earth elements (REE) in regoliths. Characterization of these materials at the field and laboratory scale provides necessary ground truth for understanding how these scarce resources can be detected using remote sensing methods at the deposit scale (i.e. 1 to 10s of kilometers). These types of studies can also be applied to monitoring the environmental effects of extraction, remediation and reclamation.

Potential benefits of the project products will be: 1) the development of new methods for assessing and exploring for REEs both domestically and worldwide, which will both enhance land use decision making and national economic policy, and 2) the development of spectral mapping methods that can eventually be applied towards inventorying of environmental risks and prioritization of land management goals for sites on public lands throughout the western United States.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue

Project objectives are:

  1.  Field and laboratory hyperspectral studies of samples of residual rare earth element deposits from deeply weathered plutonic rocks throughout the Southern Appalachians.

  2.  Spectral characterization of soils, mine waste and other regolith materials for environmental risk, resource recovery, site characterization, and land management prioritization.

  3.  Spectral analysis of soil and regolith material to provide a spectroscopic, mineralogical and geochemical framework for understanding how weathering and surficial runoff processes help to concentrate elements and minerals of critical importance to our economy. A pilot study will cover the state of California.