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December 14, 2016

Managing 72 million acres of Federal lands in Alaska is not easy, especially when the land’s many uses need to be balanced. There are several competing interests, including the development of mineral resources that are critical to the American economy.

Cutting-Edge Tools to Explore Alaska’s Mineral Potential

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Alaska oversees Federal lands and resolves competing interests to ensure the health, diversity, and productivity of this acreage for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. To help with this gargantuan task, the BLM creates and follows Resource Management Plans. John Hoppe, a geologist with the BLM, helps with these plans by examining mining claims and mineral resource assessments.

“Coming originally from mineral exploration, my initial ambition with the BLM was to make mineral resource information available to the public,” explains Hoppe. “U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] mineral assessments are now the primary source of this resource information, and it’s very important that the public has access to it.”

“[The] USGS’s data and reports are the gold standard in mineral and geologic information. Their science brings accuracy, integrity, and reliability to my work and helps ensure that our Resource Management Plans have the best and most current minerals data.”

Examining Rock Layers in the White Hills of the Alaska North Slope
USGS scientists examine rock layers in the White Hills of the Alaska North Slope, part of the Central Yukon Planning Area where the USGS recently completed a mineral assessment for the Bureau of Land Management. Photograph credit: Dave Houseknecht, USGS
Assessing the Last Frontier

“People have been prospecting in Alaska, in a significant way, for about 120 years, but it is still very much a frontier,” said Hoppe. “So much land has never been touched by a human hand and so much remains to be explored.”

The USGS assesses dozens of mineral commodities in Alaska; a recent assessment was the 2015 estimate of the potential for placer gold, rare-earth elements, platinum-group metals, copper, uranium, and several other commodities in the BLM’s Central Yukon Planning Area.

Mineral resource studies in Alaska benefit from USGS innovations. Alaska remains a rugged and daunting place for conducting science. The climate and remoteness of many locations lead to difficulties in studying resource potentials.

USGS scientists help mitigate those challenges by employing cutting-edge research tools like hyperspectral aerial surveys and high-definition satellite imagery, and by updating old standbys like the Alaska Geologic Map, which is now available in a digital format for the first time.

“Things have come a long way since the 1990s in the aspect of minerals information,” said Hoppe. “For example, the population of the Alaska Resource Data Files and the Alaska Geochemical Database, combined with the evolution of software and computers to process all this information, has prepared Alaska for a new era of understanding resource potential.”

Tuktu Bluffs of the Alaska North Slope
A USGS geologist stands on an outcropping in the Tuktu Bluffs of the Alaska North Slope. This is part of the Central Yukon Planning Area, where the USGS recently completed a mineral assessment for the Bureau of Land Management. Photograph credit: Dave Houseknecht, USGS
Alaska’s Future

Even as the BLM incorporates current USGS mineral resource information and assessments into their Resource Management Plans, Hoppe looks forward to the future of mineral science in Alaska.

“One of my favorite parts of mineral investigations is tying together information from over 100 years of geologic research and mining history and considering where those clues could point toward new mineral resources,” said Hoppe. “I’m glad that the USGS is a partner in BLM’s efforts to see where those clues will take us.”

Generalized USGS Geologic Map of the Western Part of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands
USGS map of western Alaska shows the generalized geology of the state, with each color representing a different type or age of rock. 
Generalized USGS Geologic Map of Eastern Alaska
USGS map of eastern Alaska shows the generalized geology of the state and the list of map units. 
For More Information

For more information, contact Murray Hitzman, USGS Associate Director for Energy and Minerals, at


Read more stories about USGS science in action.


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