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January 5, 2024

RESTON, Va. — The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will invest more than $1 million in a new airborne geophysical survey to map critical mineral resources in western and central Nevada in partnership with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

The funding comes in part from an investment by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the USGS Mineral Resources Program’s Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), which provides $320 million over five 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 mineral resources both in the ground and in mine waste, a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the critical minerals that power everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.

The geophysical survey will provide images of the subsurface that will expand knowledge of geology underpinning the Basin and Range province of Nevada. These flights are a continuation of a project that began in 2022. The survey area hosts brines and evaporation-based mineral systems that might contain lithium resources, as well as rock formations that may contain significant amounts of copper, molybdenum and gold.

Image shows a map of western Nevada with the survey area marked with black lines
The survey area for the Earth MRI airborne geophysical surveys of Nevada.

“These new geophysical data will give us an unprecedented regional view of the geologic structure of western and central Nevada, helping us understand the conditions that lead to the formation of critical mineral deposits, such as lithium, as well as improving our understanding of groundwater and geothermal resources,” said USGS research geophysicist Lyndsay Ball, one of the lead scientists for the project.

“These new geophysical surveys will provide crucial data for understanding the geologic framework and natural resources of much of Nevada. This includes groundwater, critical mineral, and geothermal resources. A direct application of these data will be in facilitating exploration for lithium and geothermal resources, both of which are crucial to transitioning to a more carbon-neutral energy grid,” said James Faulds, Director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. “These data will also help us understand the location of subsurface faults, some of which may pose a seismic risk for the region. This is a great investment of federal funds in the future of this region, and we applaud the U.S. Geological Survey in leading this effort. We look forward to further collaboration on this project.”

The data collected by the airborne geophysical surveys will allow resource managers to better understand the potential for natural resources like critical minerals and groundwater, as well as alerting decision-makers to potential geologic hazards like seismic faults.

The airborne surveys will include the collection of electromagnetic and magnetic data. Electromagnetic data image the electrical resistivity layers that reflect the variability in rocks and sediments, groundwater, and in some cases temperature, to depths of more than 1,000 feet underground. Magnetic data, which image the deepest rocks, can be used to identify ancient faults, volcanic rocks and other geologic features.

The new geophysical data will be processed to develop high-resolution cross-section models of the upper 1,000 to 2,000 ft of the subsurface.

The models are important for improving our understanding of critical mineral resource potential, groundwater aquifer structure and salinity, and geothermal resource potential.

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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