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RESTON, Va. — The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that, thanks to substantial funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it will invest about $2.8 million to collect a large swath of geophysical data focusing on critical mineral resources in northeastern Washington State.

The study was designed in collaboration with the Washington Geological Survey and will cover an area of about 6,448 square miles, focusing on locations likely to contain critical mineral resources. Understanding which rock formations may contain mineral resources is a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the critical minerals that are essential to everything from household appliances and electronics to clean-energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.  

Image shows a map of Washington State with the area of survey marked
The area surveyed by Earth MRI in Washington State.

The study will be funded and conducted through the USGS Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), a partnership between the USGS and state geological surveys to modernize understanding of the nation’s fundamental geologic framework through new mapping and data collection. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law accelerates Earth MRI by providing additional funding over five years with a focus on understanding domestic critical mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine wastes. The same data and mapping will also inform planning for infrastructure and natural hazards such as earthquakes and management of energy- and water resources. 

“Northeastern Washington is ideal for this type of survey,” said USGS scientist Warren Day, Science Coordinator for Earth MRI. “The region has complex geology that the airborne geophysical data will shed new light on and help us understand better where the Washington Geological Survey can focus their geologic mapping and research on mineral resources and earthquake hazards.” 

“The partnership between USGS and the Washington Geological Survey through the Earth MRI Program is a great example of how federal and state scientists working together to leverage resources leads to efficient data collection and a further understanding of critical mineral resources in the state,” said Casey Hanell, Washington State Geologist and director of the Washington Geological Survey. “This geophysical information will be used as a basis for more detailed mapping efforts by the Washington Geological Survey to gain new insights into the geologic framework of Washington.”

Image shows a helicopter with a boom sticking out front with mountains in the background
This AS350 helicopter is fitted out for an airborne geophysical survey with instruments in a long "stinger" that juts out in from of the helicopter to get the equipment as far from the rotor blades and the electrical instruments in the cockpit of the helicopter.

These airborne geophysical surveys will collect a combination of magnetic and radiometric data. These data can be used to map rocks from just beneath trees and grass to several miles underground. Magnetic data can be used to identify ancient faults, magma bodies and other geologic features. The radiometric data indicate the relative amounts of potassium, uranium and thorium in shallow rocks and soil. Scientists use this information to help map rocks that may contain mineral deposits, faults that may rupture during an earthquake, areas that may be prone to increased radon, and areas with groundwater or energy resources.

The initial airborne geophysical survey will be followed by additional investments including new geologic maps, topographic surveys, geochemical sampling and other techniques to study the chemistry of mine wastes and surrounding lands.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is advancing scientific innovation through a $510.7 million investment for the USGS to better map the Nation’s mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine wastes, to preserve historical geologic data and samples, and to construct a USGS energy and minerals research center in partnership with the Colorado School of Mines. Earlier this year, the USGS announced $74 million in mapping  of critical minerals through the USGS Earth Mapping Resources Initiative.

The survey will look at the following critical mineral commodities in northeastern Washington:

  • Antimony, used in lead-acid batteries and flame retardants
  • Arsenic, used in semi-conductors
  • Barite, used in hydrocarbon production.
  • Beryllium, used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries
  • Bismuth, used in medical and atomic research
  • Cesium, used in research and development
  • Chromium, used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys
  • 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
  • Indium, used in liquid crystal display screens
  • Lithium, used for rechargeable batteries
  • Magnesium, used as an alloy and for reducing metals
  • Manganese, used in steelmaking and batteries
  • Nickel, used to make stainless steel, superalloys, and rechargeable batteries
  • Niobium, used mostly in steel and superalloys
  • Platinum group metals, used for catalytic agents
  • Rhenium, used for lead-free gasoline and superalloys
  • Scandium, used for alloys and fuel cells
  • 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 for titanium alloys
  • Zinc, primarily used in metallurgy to produce galvanized steel
  • Zirconium, used in the high-temperature ceramics industries

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

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