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Study Evaluates Critical Mineral-Resource Potential in Alaska

March 15, 2017

Alaska has considerable potential for undiscovered mineral resources, including critical minerals.

Scientists taking soil samples
USGS researchers collecting a soil sample for rare earth elements at the Roy Creek prospect, Alaska(Credit: Susan Karl, USGS. Public domain.)

A new method for evaluating the resource potential for large, underexplored regions for critical minerals in Alaska is now available online. Critical minerals are used in products that are vital to national security, technology, and also play an integral role in our everyday modern life.

The U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys developed the new geospatial tool that integrates and analyzes publicly available databases of geologic information and estimates the mineral-resource potential for critical minerals. The results of these analyses will focus scientific investigations, inform land management decisions, and guide future mineral exploration.

A new fact sheet is available that summarizes the results from application of this geospatial tool, analyzing and mapping the resource potential in Alaska for critical minerals associated with six deposit groups. The groups include rare earth elements in alkaline granitic rocks, gold and other critical commodities in placer deposits, platinum group elements in volcanic and intrusive rocks, copper-cobalt-silver-germanium-gallium in carbonate rocks, uranium in sandstones and tin-tungsten-molybdenum-tantalum-indium in siliceous granitic rocks.

“This new data-driven geospatial approach provides an objective and quantitative tool for analysis of mineral resource potential,” said Susan Karl, with the USGS and lead author of the study. “Some of the areas that showed high potential were already known, but many of these areas had not previously been recognized. Areas identified by this method that have high resource potential based on limited data indicate both understudied and underexplored areas that are important targets for future data collection, research investigations and exploration.”

Map of Alaska showing estimated mineral-resource potential
Estimated mineral-resource potential and levels of certainty, indicated by shading of colors, for tin, tungsten, molybdenum, tantalum, indium, and fluorspar in specialized granites(Credit: Keith Labay, USGS. Public domain.)

Alaska consists of more than 663,000 square miles of land—more than a sixth of the total area of the United States—and this new method provides a valuable template to evaluate large unexplored regions for mineral resource potential.

“This study will help guide our minerals-focused geologic investigations for many years to come. We have so much left to learn about the basic geologic framework of Alaska, and now we have a great new geospatial tool to help make our research efforts more efficient and effective,” said Jamey Jones, a USGS Research Geologist and co-author of the study.

A line graph depicting potential minerals available in Alaska.
Graph of minerals that have been found, or are suspected to be present, in Alaska. Net import reliance (imports minus exports) is expressed as a percentage of domestic consumption. Although gold and molybdenum are net exported minerals, they are important to the economies of the United States and Alaska.(Credit: Graham Lederer, USGS. Public domain.)
Map of Alaska showing estimated mineral-resource potential
Estimated mineral-resource potential and levels of certainty, indicated by shading of colors, for rare earth elements, thorium, yttrium, niobium, uranium, and zirconium in alkaline igneous rocks.(Credit: Keith Labay, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

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