Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center

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Isotope and chemical methods for mineral and geoenvironmental assessments

Project Objectives

The Mineral Resources Program (MRP) is mandated to provide information to planners and decision-makers related to mineral deposits on the Nation's lands and to predict the environmental consequences of the mining or natural weathering of those deposits. Fulfillment of these functions requires the development of genetic and geoenvironmental models be developed based on the current scientific understanding of various types of ore deposits. Stable isotope, noble gas isotope, active gas chemistry, solute chemistry, and single fluid inclusion techniques are exceptionally powerful tools in the study of fundamental processes affecting ore deposits throughout their lifetimes. This Project makes it possible to easily integrate several geochemical techniques such that a broad array of geochemical tools is available to investigators for application to individual deposits, areas, or districts, or to topical problems in mineral deposit life cycles. Thus, this project facilitates the ongoing improvement of the scientific basis for assessment of the Nation's mineral wealth. Also, inasmuch as the types of knowledge gained in mineral deposit studies have wide potential application within Earth system science, the project is a valuable catalyst for interdisciplinary collaborations of the type that will be required to meet the Nation's natural science information needs.

The objective of this Project is to facilitate the full potential of both individual and integrated application of stable (C, H, N, O, S) and noble gas (He, Ar, Ne, Kr, Xe) isotopes, and active gas geochemistry (CO2, H2S, SO2, CH4, HF, HCl, N2, H2, organics, light hydrocarbons) and solute geochemistry geochemistry measurements of minerals and fluids (including single fluid inclusions) in multidisciplinary studies of fundamental processes that affect mineral deposits throughout their life cycles. These techniques, both individually and integrated, are applied to studies of processes that are important for mineral resources from their genesis through exploration and discovery, exploitation by mining, recycling of the mined materials, disposal of those materials, and final reclamation of the mined site. The knowledge acquired is continually integrated with USGS efforts to development and refine genetic and geoenvironmental models of ore deposits. Study results, and the models they support, are critical for the assessment of the Nation's mineral wealth and the environmental consequences of mining it. Knowledge gained in project studies can also be applied more broadly to a wide spectrum of societallyrelevant issues that represent high priorities in USGS investigations in the biological, hydrological, and geological sciences. Thus, the Project also strives to fulfill the recommendation of the USGS Science Strategy Team that "the USGS leverage its talents and skills to undertake comprehensive and integrated studies that examine the Earth as a system including atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere."

Relevance & Impact

The combined fluid inclusion, active gas, noble gas isotope, and stable isotope laboratories are a major USGS asset that offers a unique and exceptionally powerful combination of tools to study geochemical processes over the entire live cycle of ore deposits. The integration of these analytical capabilities within a single project is without precedent and results in unique scientific advances. The combined laboratories now have the instrumental capability to meet the need of a substantial number of MRP projects in addition to reimbursable USGS and outside-funded projects. The project provides critical new knowledge to advance the understanding of ore genesis and the evolving art of mineral and geoenvironmental assessments. These studies are required to insure that such assessments are conducted at the highest level of scientific integrity. The studies conducted by the project will play a major role in the development and direction of other Program projects. The ongoing development of new techniques opens new opportunities for research for MRP scientists. The project scientists have extensive networks with scientists in other USGS scientific mission areas, academia and industry and the ongoing interaction with these scientists and their students creates opportunities for MRP scientists to benefit from and to participate in cutting edge multidisciplinary studies at a fraction of their real cost. The laboratories of the Project have long been a major training center for graduate and post doctoral students and young scientists.

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Mineral Resources Program
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