Searching for Critical Minerals in New Mexico, Utah

“The airborne geophysical imaging that is being collected by the USGS will be of tremendous value to scientists at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, industry and the general public and we eagerly await the survey data”, said Nelia Dunbar, Director of the NMBGMR and New Mexico State Geologist. 

“Our surface mapping investigations will be strengthened by the insights into the subsurface geology provided by the airborne magnetic surveys and our geochemical analyses of rock samples will be complemented by the aero-radiometric surveys, which will provide a wealth of information about the surface geochemistry”, added Virginia McLemore, Principal Senior Economic Geologist for the NMBGMR. “We look forward to continued cooperation with the USGS on this project.”

The funding will support the largest airborne geophysical survey ever flown in the region, stretching from the Indian Peak Range in southwestern Utah to Utah Lake in the center of the state. In addition, lidar surveys of region’s topography will be flown, and a grant to the Utah Geological Survey will support geologic mapping and geochemical analyses.  

These efforts by the USGS and the Utah Geological Survey will improve the understanding of critical mineral resources within the region, including lithium, beryllium, tungsten and a wealth of other mineral commodities.  

“These maps and datasets are essential in many geoscience fields – in addition to mapping critical minerals, the same data will inform infrastructure projects, flood hazards planning and groundwater management and will identify geothermal energy resources and earthquake hazards,” said USGS Director David Applegate. “This work could only come about through close collaboration with our colleagues in the Utah Geological Survey.” 

“We are excited for this project and the commitment it represents to furthering Utah’s understanding and stewardship of mineral resources, particularly in the new era of critical minerals,” said Stephanie Mills, Senior Geologist with the Utah Geological Survey. “This geophysical survey is the first to create a comprehensive geologic framework over important and unique mineral districts in west central Utah. We are proud to partner with the USGS and be part of a successful state and federal government collaboration that addresses essential research into our nation’s mineral resource landscape.” 

The Utah Geological Survey will additionally carry out geologic mapping for critical mineral commodities, most notably indium, zinc and manganese, within the surveyed areas. The geologic mapping efforts, which are managed through the USGS National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, will refine our understanding of the geology underlying areas of interest. In addition, data preservation efforts managed through the USGS National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program will help make historical critical minerals information electronically available to the public. 

The mineral commodities to be studied in New Mexico and Utah include: 

·  Aluminum: used in almost all sectors of the economy 

·  Arsenic: used in lumber preservatives, pesticides and semi-conductors 

·  Antimony: used in lead-acid batteries and flame retardants 

·  Barite: used in hydrocarbon production 

·  Beryllium: used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries 

·  Bismuth: used in medical and atomic research 

·  Cobalt: used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys 

·  Copper: major industrial metal used in electrical components and building construction  

·  Fluorspar: used in the manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline and fluorine chemicals 

·  Gallium: used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs 

·  Germanium: used for fiber optics and night vision applications 

·  Gold: used in computers, communications, spacecraft and many other applications 

·  Graphite: used for lubricants, batteries and fuel cells 

·  Indium: mostly used in LCD screens 

·  Lithium: main mineral component of batteries and renewable energy 

·  Molybdenum: used as an alloying agent in steel, cast iron and superalloys to enhance hardenability, strength, toughness, wear and corrosion resistance 

·  Platinum group metals: used for catalytic agents 

·  Rare earth elements: primarily used in magnets and catalysts 

·  Tantalum: used in electronic components, mostly capacitors 

·  Tellurium: used in steelmaking and solar cells 

·  Tin: used as protective coatings and alloys for steel 

·  Tungsten: primarily used to make wear-resistant metals 

·  Vanadium: primarily used as alloying agent for iron and steel 

Earth MRI is a partnership between the USGS and state geological surveys across America to modernize our understanding of the Nation’s fundamental geologic framework and knowledge of mineral resources. The 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has accelerated this new mapping in areas with potential for hosting critical-mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine wastes.