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RESTON, Va. — The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that, with 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 along the Colorado-Wyoming border. 

Understanding rock formations that may contain mineral resources is a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the critical minerals that are essential to powering everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.   

The surveys will focus on the Sierra Madre-Elkhorn Mountains and the Medicine Bow Mountains and will complement an additional USGS airborne geophysical survey of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The area has seen mineral exploration in the past, and there are several known mineral systems that are of high interest for their critical-mineral potential. This region was chosen in collaboration with the state geological surveys due to several known areas of mineral interest that are significantly undermapped.  

The funding was announced while Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo was in Colorado for the 2022 Pecora Conference to highlight the U.S. Geological Survey’s work through 50 years of Landsat earth observations and current and future innovations in science and technology.  

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes historic investments through the earth mapping resources initiative to secure our supply of critical minerals that power household appliances, clean energy technology and more,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “Through these investments, the U.S. Geological Survey is making critical scientific advancements in data mapping and preservation that will equip future generations.” 

“I’m looking forward to this project because the magnetic data collected on this airborne survey improve our understanding of the region’s geologic history and its potential for critical minerals,” said USGS scientist Ben Drenth, the USGS lead researcher on this survey. “In addition, the radiometric data collected simultaneously will directly aid geologic mapping of surface soil types, which, in turn, will help increase our understanding of shallow water resources.”  

“We are very pleased to continue our strong working relationship with our partners at the USGS,” said Matt Morgan, Colorado State Geologist and Director of the Colorado Geological Survey. “Having this state-of-the-art geophysical data available before our geologists begin to map the region will provide us an incredible glimpse into the subsurface geology and help us better understand the mineral systems at depth.”

"Thanks to years of close collaboration between the USGS, Colorado Geological Survey and Wyoming State Geological Survey, the resulting geophysical survey will provide geoscientists an unparalleled dataset in a region with promising critical and precious mineral potential," said Erin Campbell, Wyoming State Geologist and director of the Wyoming State Geological Survey. "The dataset will also be invaluable for soil scientists and will integrate with studies aimed at understanding effects of fire at the shallow subsurface."

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 with additional funding over five years, with a focus on understanding domestic critical-mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine wastes. The new data and mapping will also inform planning for infrastructure and natural hazards such as earthquakes and management of energy- and water resources.  

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.  

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 likely to contain 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 survey will look at the following critical-mineral commodities along the Colorado-Wyoming border: 

  • Antimony, used in batteries and flame retardants 
  • Arsenic, used in lumber preservatives, pesticides, and semi-conductors 
  • Beryllium, used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries 
  • Bismuth, used in medical and atomic research 
  • Chromium, used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys 
  • Cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys 
  • Fluorspar, used in the manufacture of aluminum, gasoline, and uranium fuel 
  • Gallium, used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs 
  • Germanium, used for fiber optics and night vision applications 
  • Indium, mostly used in LCD screens 
  • Magnesium, used in furnace linings for manufacturing steel and ceramics 
  • Manganese, used in steelmaking 
  • Nickel: used for special alloys, stainless steel, and high-temperature applications 
  • Niobium, used mostly in steel alloys 
  • Platinum group metals, used for catalytic agents 
  • Rare earth elements group, primarily used in magnets and catalysts 
  • 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 
  • Vanadium, primarily used for titanium alloys 
  • 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 onTwitter.

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