Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

April 25, 2017

Whether you pan for gold or rare earths, you’ll get a lot of sand...and this EarthWord!

EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!

Image shows black pans with gold grains
Gold Pans and Placer Gold - image by  California Geological Survey.

The EarthWord: Placer


  • If you’re panning for gold, you’ve come to the right place-r, that is! Placers are a type of mineral deposit in which grains of a valuable mineral like gold or the rare earths are mixed with sand deposited by a river or glacier.

  • Placer is also a mining method term. Placer mining uses water and gravity to separate gold from surrounding material.


  • Placer is an Americanization of the Catalan word placel, which itself came from the Spanish word plaza, meaning “open space.”

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Placer deposits containing gold are areas that have highly concentrated accumulations due to stream/river erosional processes taking place around/over geologic terranes that contain gold, over a very long period of time.

  • Placer deposits are an important source of many valuable minerals, particularly gold and rare earth elements. They occur throughout the world.


Next EarthWord:

Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science.

Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.