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USGS scours Ozarks for critical minerals

Teams with state geologists for Earth MRI geophysics scan Metal Tech News – July 20, 2022

To gain a better understanding of the potential for critical minerals in the Ozarks, the U.S. Geological Survey has partnered with Arkansas and Missouri geologists on a $2.75 million program that will result in collecting "the largest continuous swath of geophysical data in the United States focused on critical mineral resources."

This program is being carried out under the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, or Earth MRI, a partnership between the USGS, Association of American State Geologists, and state geological surveys to better understand America's geology and mineral resource potential through new mapping, geophysics, and geochemical sampling.

"This project shows just what the USGS and the state geological surveys can accomplish when we pool our resources," said Warren Day, Earth MRI lead scientist for the USGS.

The Earth MRI scan of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, a region synonymous with the Ozark Mountains, will primarily involve airborne geophysical surveys that utilize sensing equipment that will provide geologists information on buried geological structures and mineral potential.

"Not only will this new data assist us in our overall understanding of the state's underlying geologic framework, but they will also provide us with the information needed to evaluate critical minerals in Arkansas and the potential economic benefits," said Scott Ausbrooks, a state geologist and director of the Arkansas Geological Survey.

The geophysical surveys being flown over the Ozarks will collect a combination of magnetic and radiometric data.

The magnetic survey will identify the amount of magnetic minerals, primarily magnetite, in exposed and deeply buried rocks. The radiometric data will provide clues to the relative amounts of potassium, uranium, and thorium in exposed rocks and soil. Geoscientists will be able to use the data from these surveys to help identify where mineral deposits might be located.

Previous Earth MRI projects in Arkansas and southern Missouri have identified the potential for 18 critical mineral commodities within the borders of the airborne surveys. Here is the list of the minerals, metals, and groups of elements being explored for in the survey area:

Aluminum – A critical base metal used in almost every sector of the U.S. economy.

Antimony – Used in lead-acid batteries, flame retardants, and emerging liquid-metal batteries.

Barite – A heavy non-metallic mineral used in the drill mud for oil and gas drilling.

Beryllium – An agent used in aerospace and military alloys where precision is a must.

Cobalt – A metal used in superalloys and lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.

Fluorspar – Is used to manufacture aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline, and fluorine chemicals.

Gallium – A tech metal used in smartphones, communication networks, LEDs, and solar cells.

Germanium – A semiconductor used for fiber optics, night vision gear, and quantum computing.

Ilmenite – A mineral source of titanium used for pigments and high-performance alloys.

Indium – Used in a transparent conducting film applied to flat-panel displays and touchscreens.

Lithium – A highly demanded ingredient for rechargeable batteries powering electric vehicles.

Molybdenum – An alloying metal widely used for high-strength steels for engine parts.

Manganese – Used as an alloy in steelmaking and in lithium-ion batteries.

Nickel – A stainless steel alloy and is a primary ingredient of lithium-ion batteries.

Rare Earths – A suite of 15 elements with a broad range of tech and industrial uses.

Titanium – Used as a white pigment and in lightweight and strong metal alloys.

Vanadium – An iron and steel alloying agent that is increasingly being used for flow batteries.

Zinc – Primarily used in metallurgy to produce galvanized steel.

Some of these commodities on this list are being actively mined or are byproducts found in mine waste in the study area, while others have a history of production or have been identified via exploration and research.

"This project extends previous magnetic and radiometric surveys conducted in the southern midcontinent. It will also fill in large gaps between the important mineral-producing regions of southeast Missouri and north central Arkansas," said Joe Gillman, state geologist and director of the Missouri Geological Survey.

The geophysical data gathered with these Earth MRI scans can also help identify potential geothermal and other energy resources, groundwater, and potential earthquake hazards in the region.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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