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RESTON, Va. — The U.S. Geological Survey will invest more than $1.9 million to map critical mineral resources in Montana in partnership with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology.

The funding comes largely from an investment from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the USGS Mineral Resources Program’s Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), which provides $320 million over 5 years through the USGS to advance scientific innovation and map critical minerals vital to the Nation’s supply chains, economy and national defense. The work will modernize our understanding of the Nation’s fundamental geologic framework and improve knowledge of domestic critical mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine waste

The Earth MRI investment will enable both traditional geologic mapping and cutting edge airborne geophysical surveys focusing on the Boulder Batholith and surrounding areas of southwest Montana.

Image shows a map of Montana with the survey area marked with a red polygon
2023 Earth MRI Montana Airborne Geophysical Survey Area

Covering more than 2,700 square miles, the USGS-led geophysical survey will use the latest technological developments that will allow scientists to develop high-resolution three-dimensional representations of geology to depths more than 3,280 feet below the surface. The 3D models and maps produced from the survey can be used to understand the distribution of groundwater and mineral resources, as well as the potential for natural hazards. Data collected as part of this effort will be made public and used by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology and the USGS to guide more detailed geologic mapping at local scales.

“The airborne geophysical surveys help pinpoint the areas where follow-up geologic mapping efforts will provide the most value,” said Eric Anderson, a USGS research scientist leading the survey. “The survey results cover wide areas and can identify anomalies that scientists can examine in the field, giving us a better idea of what potential natural resources there are, like critical minerals and groundwater, or even natural hazards like seismic faults.”

"The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology has several programs related to groundwater, mineral deposits, mine waste, and natural hazards - all of which rely on our geologic mapping," said John Metesh, Montana State Geologist and director of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. "Large-area surveys such as this provide excellent information to support our efforts to inform water management, mineral assessment, and hazards resilience in Montana."

The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology will carry out additional geologic mapping for critical mineral commodities within the surveyed area. The geologic mapping efforts, which are managed through the USGS National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, will refine our understanding of the geology underlying areas of interest. In addition, data preservation efforts managed through the USGS National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program will help make historical critical minerals information electronically available to the public.

The purpose of these projects is to create modern geologic and geophysical maps to better understand the geology and potential critical mineral resources of the region.

This region contains known and potential undiscovered critical mineral potential associated with rocks similar to those that host the world-class porphyry copper deposit at Butte, MT, including commodities like arsenic, antimony, tellurium, bismuth, tin, gallium, tungsten and other minerals.

These minerals are essential components of everything from household appliances and electronics to electric vehicles and low-carbon energy technologies like batteries, wind turbines and solar power generation. These maps and datasets are also essential in many geoscience fields, informing infrastructure projects and improving our knowledge of groundwater resources and earthquake hazards.

The critical mineral commodities that are included in the research projects in Montana are:

  • Arsenic: used in lumber preservatives, pesticides and semi-conductors
  • Antimony: used in flame-proofing compounds, alloys and batteries
  • Bismuth: used in medical and atomic research
  • Gallium: used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs
  • Tellurium: used in steelmaking and solar cells
  • Tin: used as protective coatings and alloys for steel
  • Tungsten: primarily used to make wear-resistant metals

Earth MRI is a partnership between the USGS and state geological surveys across America to modernize our understanding of the Nation’s fundamental geologic framework and knowledge of mineral resources. The  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has accelerated this new mapping in areas with potential for hosting critical mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine wastes.

More information can be found here. To learn more about how the USGS is investing the resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, visit our website. To learn more about USGS mineral-resource and commodity information, please visit our website and follow us on Twitter.

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