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By Shane Lasley
Metal Tech News 

USGS launches 3 new Earth MRI scans

For critical minerals in Missouri, Montana, and Minnesota Metal Tech News - January 20, 2023


Last updated 1/23/2023 at 4:40am

Geologist using hammer to break off a rock sample on a hillside in Alaska.

Adrian Bender, U.S. Geological Survey

One aspect of the USGS Earth MRI program is the mapping and sampling of surfacing geology in areas known for their critical mineral potential. This photo shows USGS geoscientist Jamey Jones sampling an outcrop in Alaska.

As part of its nationwide scan for domestic sources of critical minerals, the U.S. Geological Survey is investing just over $1 million to gain a better understanding of the potential for cobalt, nickel, niobium, rare earths, manganese, platinum group elements, and other essential metals in Missouri, Montana, and Minnesota.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior allotted more than $74 million to the USGS Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, or Earth MRI, a partnership with state geological surveys to better understand the nation's geology and mineral resources.

This work primarily involves mapping and sampling of outcropping rocks, and geophysical surveys that provide geologists with a picture of the rock formations and mineralization hidden beneath the surface.

"Combining airborne geophysics with geologic mapping makes for a powerful toolkit in resource mapping and assessment," said Paul Bedrosian, a research geoscientist with the USGS.

The new surveys being carried out in Missouri, Montana and Minnesota primarily involve geological mapping in areas known to host minerals critical to clean energy and high-tech applications.

Missouri cobalt

The Earth MRI mapping project in Missouri is focused on a portion of the world-class Southeast Missouri Lead District that is known for its cobalt potential.

Lead mining in this district can be traced back to the early 1700s and by 1719 operations began near the communities of Old Mines and Mine La Motte.

USGS is particularly interested in areas near Fredericktown, a subsection of the Southeast Missouri Lead District also known for its rich zinc, copper, silver, cobalt and nickel mineralization.

Missouri Cobalt is currently working to produce cobalt and other metals and clean up legacy mine waste by reprocessing the tailings from historical mining on the outskirts of Fredericktown.

USGS says the active and past-producing mines in this area make Missouri one of only nine states with potentially economically viable deposits of cobalt, a metal that is critical to the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles.

To better understand the Southeast Missouri Lead District's potential for cobalt and other metals, the USGS and Missouri Geological Survey are carrying out a $385,000-program focused on mapping the geology in this 300-year-old mining district.

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Montana rare earths

The mapping in Montana is to be carried out in the Sheep Creek-Mineral Hill mineral belt, an area in the southwest corner of the state known to host intriguing quantities of niobium and rare earth elements.

High-grade niobium and rare earths were discovered in this mineral belt at Sheep Creek in the late 1950s.

Because there was virtually no commercial interest in rare earths at that time, the exploration carried out in this area into the 1960s primarily focused on the niobium used in high-strength steels and other alloys.

Recently, US Critical Materials Corp. acquired Sheep Creek, a project that covers some of the most promising niobium-rare earths discoveries from historical exploration. Early sampling by the company has confirmed the presence of 13 minerals considered critical to the U.S. – nine rare earths, gallium, niobium, scandium, and yttrium.

"During my time with the US Geological Survey, as the rare earths analyst, I had the opportunity to review the majority of the rare earth projects in the U.S.," said US Critical Materials President James Hedrick. "In my professional opinion, there are very few assets in the U.S. that have the potential which continues to be uncovered at Sheep Creek."

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More information on this emerging critical mineral project in southwest Montana can be read at Sheep Creek's deeper rare earth potential in the November 30, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.

To gain a better understanding of the longer mineral belt that where the Sheep Creek deposit is found, the USGS is investing roughly $364,000 for geologic mapping and geochemical sampling be carried out in partnership with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology around clusters of rare earth element prospects in this area of southwest Montana.

This mapping aims to help refine the understanding of rare earth-bearing carbonatite horizons and niobium-rich carbonate-hosted deposits on the Montana side of this critical minerals belt that extends into southeast Idaho.

Minnesota manganese

In Minnesota, the Earth MRI program is primarily focused on manganese, a key stabilizing ingredient in the cathodes of the nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion batteries widely used in EVs.

Manganese-rich iron ore deposits were mined from shallow marine sediments known as brown ores in northern Minnesota from 1911 to 1984.

USGS says a large magnetic anomaly associated with the brown ores extends beyond the historical mining in the area, indicating that a much larger mineral system rich in manganese, as well as potentially cobalt, platinum group elements, and other metals may remain.

To find out, the USGS is investing $300,000 in Earth MRI funding for further exploration. This work, being carried out in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and University of Minnesota Natural Resources Research Institute, will include geophysics, mapping, and sampling in Crow Wing and Aitkin Counties of north-central Minnesota.

A geologist hammer lies on broke rocks with bands of rare earth mineralization.

U.S. Critical Materials Corp.

Carbonatite rocks with bands of the rare earth mineral allanite in a dump from 1960s niobium exploration along the Sheep Creek-Mineral Hill belt in southwestern Montana.

This work will help determine whether this historically producing iron and manganese mining region has a much larger store of metals critical to EVs, as well as other high-tech and industrial applications.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

With more than 15 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 907-726-1095


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