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November 16, 2022

RESTON, Va. — The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in partnership with Nevada and Oregon officials, announces more than $1.45 million has been awarded to conduct geologic mapping, airborne geophysical surveying and geochemical sampling in support of critical mineral resource studies.

The funding will support an airborne electromagnetic survey of more than 32,000 km2 (12,500 mi2) in northern and central Nevada and parts of southern Oregon. In addition, a grant to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology will support geologic mapping and geochemical analyses within McDermitt Caldera, which hosts some of the richest lithium deposits in the United States. Collectively, these data will help improve our understanding of critical mineral resources within the region, 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, electric vehicles, and wind turbines.

The grants come from a $74 million investment allocated earlier this year to the USGS Mineral Resources Program’s Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), provided through annual appropriations and investments from the Biden-Harris Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Overall, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is providing a $510.7 million investment to the USGS to advance scientific innovation and map critical minerals.

The USGS will conduct airborne electromagnetic and magnetic surveys over several key areas within the Great Basin that have known or potential critical-mineral resources, including lithium, beryllium, tungsten and a wealth of other commodities. The airborne survey will be the largest flown in the region, covering extensive portions of Nevada, the top mineral-producing state in the nation.

Image shows a map of Nevada and surrounding states with the survey areas marked
Map of the survey Area of Interest in Nevada, Oregon and California.

“Combining airborne geophysics with geologic mapping makes for a powerful toolkit in resource mapping and assessment,” said Paul Bedrosian, one of the USGS research scientists leading the geophysical surveys. “These data provide a baseline for understanding the formation and distribution of mineral resources in the Great Basin, as well as improving our knowledge of groundwater, geothermal resources and seismic hazards.”

The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology will additionally carry out geologic mapping for critical mineral commodities, most notably lithium, within the McDermitt Caldera that spans the Nevada/Oregon border. 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 to helping identify mineral potential, these maps also support decisions about land use, provide information on water, energy and mineral resources and can help mitigate the impact of geologic hazards on communities.

“This project provides an important investment in geologic mapping and geophysical surveys that will enhance our understanding of critical minerals in Nevada and the broader Great Basin region,” said Jim Faulds, Nevada State Geologist and director of the NBMG. “The geologic mapping defines the geologic conditions at the Earth’s surface while the geophysical surveys allow us to peer into the subsurface. The Earth MRI program is a great example of how federal and state agencies can work closely together to address important societal needs of the nation.”

Airborne geophysical surveys flown as part of Earth MRI collect a combination of electromagnetic, magnetic, and radiometric data. Airborne electromagnetic surveys sense changes in the electrical conductivity of rocks which can be exploited to map stratigraphy, faults and alteration in three dimensions. This information allows scientists to identify locations of particular rocks that may be likely to host minerals of interest, as well as locate geothermal energy resources, groundwater resources, and potential earthquake hazards in the region. Magnetic data can tell us the amount of magnetic minerals, primarily magnetite, in exposed and deeply buried rocks.

Image shows a helicopter towing a hoop with mountains in the background
A low-flying helicopter towing a geophysical device collects scientific data on groundwater and geology. Information collected during these surveys can help with studying critical mineral resources, natural hazards and groundwater potential. Image courtesy of Brett Robinson, Xcalibur Multiphysics.

The critical mineral commodities that are included in the research projects in Nevada and Oregon include:

  • Aluminum: used in almost all sectors of the economy
  • Arsenic: used in lumber preservatives, pesticides, and semi-conductors
  • Antimony: used in lead-acid batteries and flame retardants
  • Barite: used in hydrocarbon production
  • Beryllium: used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries
  • Bismuth: used in medical and atomic research
  • Cobalt: used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys
  • Fluorspar: used in the manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline, and fluorine chemicals
  • Gallium: used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs
  • Germanium: used for fiber optics and night vision applications
  • Graphite: used for lubricants, batteries, and fuel cells
  • Lithium: used primarily for batteries
  • Indium: mostly used in LCD screens
  • Platinum group metals: used for catalytic agents
  • Rare earth elements: primarily used in magnets and catalysts
  • Tantalum: used in electronic components, mostly capacitors
  • Tellurium: used in steelmaking and solar cells
  • Tin: used as protective coatings and alloys for steel
  • Tungsten: primarily used to make wear-resistant metals
  • Vanadium: primarily used as alloying agent for iron and steel

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 mineral resources through new geologic maps, geophysical and topographic surveys, and geochemical sampling. The 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided additional funding that 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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