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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 $3.2 million to collect a large swath of geophysical data focusing on critical-mineral resources in parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

This region was chosen in collaboration with the state geological surveys due to several known areas of mineral interest that are significantly undermapped. 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 everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.  

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.”

“Not only will these airborne geophysical surveys provide further data to help Iowa Geological Survey geologists better understand the complex Precambrian geology in northwest Iowa, but they will also provide valuable information for mapping the surficial geology in the region,” said Keith Schilling, Iowa State Geologist and director of the Iowa Geological Survey. “The IGS is invested in collaborations that will allow us to assess the potential for finding sustainable resources, including critical minerals and groundwater resources, in our own backyard. We look forward to the results and hope that this work leads to future economic investments in northwest Iowa.” 

“We are pleased that this program is improving knowledge of our national geologic framework, while revealing new insights into the geology of our state, thus clarifying potential options for materials that could be required for national security and our economy,” said Harvey Thorleifson, Minnesota State Geologist and Director of the Minnesota Geological Survey.

“This partnership portends a truly exceptional opportunity for understanding the deeply buried—and effectively hidden—geology of northeastern Nebraska,” said R.M. Joeckel, Nebraska State Geologist and Director of the Conservation and Survey Division. “This project is the kind of well-planned regional effort that can put geophysical data into a more meaningful regional context than ever before.  I suspect that we will learn far more than what we imagined.  Without it, we might never have a chance to know more about that area.  I am gratified that this has come to pass and so very excited to see and use the results.  Furthermore, we here at Nebraska’s Conservation and Survey Division are very pleased to work with our colleagues in the other state surveys and at the USGS.”

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. 

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 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 the central Great Plains:

  • Chromium, used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys
  • Cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys
  • Lithium, used primarily for batteries
  • Nickel, used for special alloys, stainless steel, and high-temperature applications
  • Niobium, used mostly in steel alloys
  • The platinum group elements, used for catalytic agents
  • The rare earth elements, primarily used in magnets and catalysts
  • Scandium, used for alloys and fuel cells
  • Tin, used as protective coatings and alloys for steel
  • Titanium, overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or metal alloys

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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