What are some benefits of volcanic eruptions?

Over geologic time, volcanic eruptions and related processes have directly and indirectly benefited mankind.

  • Volcanic materials ultimately break down and weather to form some of the most fertile soils on Earth, cultivation of which has produced abundant food and fostered civilizations.
  • The internal heat associated with young volcanic systems has been harnessed to produce geothermal energy.
  • Most of the metallic minerals mined in the world, such as copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc, are associated with magmas found deep within the roots of extinct volcanoes.

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Where can I obtain soil surveys?

A soil survey is the systematic description, classification, and mapping of soils in an area. They are published by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) , formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service. NRCS soil surveys are available from several sources: Some are on the NRCS website . Published soil surveys can be found at...

How much silver has been found in the world?

Of the 1,740,000 metric tons of silver discovered to date, 55% is found in just four countries on earth. All the silver discovered thus far would fit in a cube 55 meters on a side. Learn more at the USGS commodity website for silver .

How much gold has been found in the world?

About 244,000 metric tons of gold has been discovered to date (187,000 metric tons historically produced plus current underground reserves of 57,000 metric tons). Most of that gold has come from just three countries: China, Australia, and South Africa. The United States ranked fourth in gold production in 2016. All of the gold discovered thus far...

How much copper has been found in the world?

To date, roughly 700 million metric tons of copper have been produced around the world. This would fit into a cube measuring about 430 meters on a side. Identified deposits contain an estimated 2.1 billion metric tons of additional copper, which brings the total amount of discovered copper to 2.8 billion metric tons. This would fit into a cube...

How do we extract minerals?

The primary methods used to extract minerals from the ground are: Underground mining Surface (open pit) mining Placer mining The location and shape of the deposit, strength of the rock, ore grade, mining costs, and current market price of the commodity are some of the determining factors for selecting which mining method to use. Higher-grade...

How much of the Earth is volcanic?

More than 80 percent of the Earth's surface -- above and below sea level -- is of volcanic origin. Gaseous emissions from volcanic vents over hundreds of millions of years formed the Earth's earliest oceans and atmosphere, which supplied the ingredients vital to evolve and sustain life. Over geologic eons, countless volcanic eruptions have...

Does the USGS have reports on the background levels of elements in soils and other surficial materials?

The following USGS products will be helpful in determining the background levels of various elements in soils and other surficial materials: Geochemical and Mineralogical Data for Soils of the Conterminous United States (2013) Data for samples collected at three intervals (0-5 cm surficial soils, A-Horizon soils, and C-Horizon soils) across the...

How many active volcanoes are there on Earth?

There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide, aside from the continuous belt of volcanoes on the ocean floor. About 500 of these have erupted in historical time. Many of these are located along the Pacific Rim in what is known as the 'Ring of Fire.' In the United States, volcanoes in the Cascade Range and Alaska (Aleutian volcanic...
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Date published: May 11, 2017

Magmas to Metals

No one wants to have an active volcano in their backyard (just ask Dionisio Pulido), but ancient eroded volcanoes can sometimes be literal goldmines for mineral ores.

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Image shows a sample of gold against a black background
December 31, 2016

Native Gold

A sample of native gold. Gold has been treasured since ancient times for its beauty and permanence.   Most of the gold that is fabricated today goes into the manufacture of jewelry, but it also performs critical functions in computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, jet aircraft engines, and a host of other products. Read more about gold

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Samples to OGRL thumbnail
December 29, 2016

OGRL soil samples

A pair of hands holding a soil sample above the ground that is covered in clovers.

Image shows gray ash covering cars and a house
July 18, 2016

Ash Coating from Rabaul Volcanic Eruption

Ash buries cars and buildings after the 1984 eruption of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Credit: USGS

Image shows gold-bearing veins of quartz
May 6, 2016

Gold Veins

Gold-bearing quartz veins from the Blue Ribbon Mine, Alaska. Credit: AlaskaMining at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44555449

Image: Copper
November 24, 2009

Copper

Native copper. The USGS studies processes that form copper deposits and reports global production and consumption.

Image: Geothermal Plant
November 24, 2009

Geothermal Plant

A geothermal power plant at The Geysers near Santa Rosa, California. The USGS researches and assesses geothermal resources.

Image shows black pans with gold grains
November 30, 2000

Gold Pans and Placer Gold

Gold Pans and Placer Gold - image by Max Flanery, California Geological Survey.

Large umbrella shaped cloud of volcanic ash viewed from a distance
June 15, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991 towering above farms and agricultural lands in the Philippines.

Silver metal specimen with pen for scale

Silver metal specimen

Silver. Pen for scale. Mineral collection of Brigham Young University Department of Geology, Provo, Utah. Photograph by Andrew Silver. BYU index 1-4112b, Ag.