American Geosciences Institute’s Critical Issues program


The Arizona Geological Survey’s winter e-magazine features an article about the American Geosciences Institute’s Critical Issues program (www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues).

The aim of this AGI program is to pioneer a new approach to sharing societally-relevant science with state and local decision makers. “Here in Arizona, we are sharing this with state and local decision-makers to help them wrap their heads around the complex issues involving groundwater, geologic hazards, and sustainable natural resource management.”

The program aims to support connections and communication between the geoscience community and decision makers. Although the program caters to decision makers at all levels, it particularly focuses on state and local decision makers because these stakeholders are commonly underserved by geoscience policy efforts.

The program convenes meetings, such as the AGI Critical Issues Forum, but its main interface is a web-based platform of resources that bring the expertise of the geoscience community to decision makers by offering a curated selection of information products from sources that include state geological surveys, federal and state agencies, and AGI’s member societies.

The Critical Issues program offers the following freely accessible information services:

Research database: Over 4,000 publications primarily from state geological surveys and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Webinars: Free webinars on a variety of topics that bring geoscientists and decision makers together to discuss potential solutions to challenges at the interface of geoscience and society.

Maps & Visualizations: 144 interactive maps and visualizations covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Case studies: A new product that is coming online in Spring 2017. Specific applications of geoscience to societal problems.

Fact Sheets: A new product that is coming online in Spring 2017. Provide more in-depth information on the big issues.

Frequently Asked Questions: 105 questions on topics including: climate, energy, hazards, mineral resources, and water.

Read more at:


This AZGS e-Magazine also includes an article about groundwater use in the United States.


American mineral production for 2016

The U.S. Geological Survey has just released their annual summary of non-fuel mineral production in the U.S. for 2016. They estimate that the value of all non-fuel minerals produced from U.S. mines was $74.6 billion, a slight increase over production in 2015. “ Domestic raw materials and domestically recycled materials were used to process mineral materials worth $675 billion. These mineral materials were, in turn, consumed by downstream industries with an estimated value of $2.78 trillion in 2016.”

Principal contributors to the total value of metal mine production in 2016 were gold (37%), copper (29%), iron ore (15%), and zinc (7%). The estimated value of U.S. industrial minerals production in 2016 was $51.6 billion which was dominated by crushed stone (31%), cement (18%), and construction sand and gravel (17%).

Nevada was ranked first with a total mineral production value of $7.65 billion, mainly from gold. Arizona came in second in total production with a value of $5.56 billion and first in U.S. copper production. Texas, California, Minnesota, Florida, Alaska, Michigan, Wyoming, Missouri, and Utah, in that order, were next in value of production.

“In 2016, U.S. production of 13 mineral commodities was valued at more than $1 billion each. These were, in decreasing order of value, crushed stone, cement, construction sand and gravel, gold, copper, industrial sand and gravel, iron ore (shipped), lime, phosphate rock, salt, soda ash, zinc, and clays (all types).” Does that order surprise you?

Most of the material mined (stone, sand, lime, clay) is used in construction of our infrastructure.

Gold is used as coinage and to manufacture jewelry. Because gold does not corrode, it is used in solid state electronic devices that use very low voltages and currents which are easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish at the contact points.

Copper is used mainly to generate and transmit electricity and it occurs in all our electronic devices.

Zinc is used for galvanizing to prevent corrosion and, combined with copper to make brass. Zinc is also combined with other metals to form materials that are used in automobiles, electrical components, and household fixtures. Zinc oxide is used in the manufacture of rubber and as a skin ointment.

Iron is used mainly to make steel.

Phosphate rock is used mainly as a fertilizer and also as a nutritional supplement for animals and humans.

Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is an essential raw material used in the manufacturing of glass, detergents chemicals, softening water, making baking soda, and used in many industrial products.

“U.S. mine production of copper in 2016 increased slightly, to about 1.41 million tons, and was valued at about $6.8 billion. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Michigan, in descending order of production, accounted for more than 99% of domestic mine production; copper also was recovered in Missouri. Twenty-four mines recovered copper, 17 of which accounted for about 99% of production.”

A note on reserves and resources:

Reserves data are dynamic. They may be reduced as ore is mined and (or) the feasibility of extraction diminishes, or more commonly, they may continue to increase as additional deposits (known or recently discovered) are developed, or currently exploited deposits are more thoroughly explored and (or) new technology or economic variables improve their economic feasibility. Reserves may be considered a working inventory of mining companies’ supplies of an economically extractable mineral commodity. As such, the magnitude of that inventory is necessarily limited by many considerations, including cost of drilling, taxes, price of the mineral commodity being mined, and the demand for it. Reserves will be developed to the point of business needs and geologic limitations of economic ore grade and tonnage. For example, in 1970, identified and undiscovered world copper resources were estimated to contain 1.6 billion metric tons of copper, with reserves of about 280 million tons of copper. Since then, more than 500 million tons of copper have been produced worldwide, but world copper reserves in 2016 were estimated to be 720 million tons of copper, more than double those of 1970, despite the depletion by mining of almost double the original estimated reserves.


As can be seen in the table above, there was a decline in the production of coal, probably due to the rise in natural gas production. Metal production also decreased. According to the USGS, “Several U.S. metal mines and processing facilities were idled or closed permanently in 2016, including iron ore mines in Michigan and Minnesota; three primary aluminum smelters in Indiana, Missouri, and Washington; one secondary zinc smelter in North Carolina; a titanium sponge facility in Utah, the only such facility in the United States; and titanium mineral operations in Virginia.” In 2016, imports made up more than one-half of the U.S. apparent consumption of 50 non-fuel mineral commodities, and the United States was 100% import reliant for 20 of those.

The 200-page report gives detailed information for each commodity.

The full report is available online here: https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2017/mcs2017.pdf

American Mineral Heritage: The Harvard Collection at the Flandrau 2016

This is a guest post by Michael Conway, Chief, Geologic Extension Service AZ Geological Survey.

“Harvard is the granddaddy” of mineral collections, said Professor Bob Downs, Curator of the University of Arizona Mineral Museum, as he welcomed an overflow crowd of several hundred people, most with strong ties to Arizona’s mineral collecting community, to the unveiling of the American Mineral Heritage: The Harvard Collection at the University of Arizona’s Mineral Museum on February 5th. The exhibit displays dozens one-of-a-kind minerals from around the world, with especial focus on classic pegmatitic minerals of the northeastern U.S.

Figure 2. The core of the American Mineral Heritage "Gold" case.Figure 2. The core of the American Mineral Heritage “Gold” case.

The fabulous gold display alone is worth the price of admission. An affinity for gold is interlaced in human DNA. The American Mineral Heritage “Gold” case (Figure 2) includes extraordinary specimens from the world famous collection of A.C. Burrage. Specimens hail from California, France, the Czech Republic, British Columbia, and elsewhere. The full range of gold hues and forms – from massive, to scaly (Figure 3), to leafy and dendritic – are on display. France’s largest gold nugget – a massive, oblong, fist-sized stone – is here (Figure 4). For most of these extraordinary specimens, this is the first time in decades that they have reached the exhibit floor, or been out of the curator’s closet.

Figure 3. Gold specimen on display at Flandrau. Photo by Shipherd Reed.Figure 3. Gold specimen on display at Flandrau. Photo by Shipherd Reed.Figure 4. The largest gold placer nugget found in France.Figure 4. The largest gold placer nugget found in France.Harvard Collection.

Harvard has the oldest, extant mineral collection in the United States. No less than Founding Father John Adams was an early enthusiast, encouraging Professor Benjamin Waterhouse (Figure 5) in 1784 to build a mineral collection to promote the “Natural History” of the new nation. In the first year of his presidency, George Washington visited and examined the Harvard collection.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the team of Louis Agassiz and son Alexander Agassiz, built out the collection: adding intellectual fervor, finances and splendid new specimens. In the 20thand 21st century, the collection flourished under the hands of curators, Charles Palache (1923 – 1940), Clifford Frondel (1946 – 1977), Carl Francis (1977 – 2011) and Raquel Alonso-Perez (current).

Figure 5. A young and studious Benjamin Waterhouse. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart (1775).Figure 5. A young and studious Benjamin Waterhouse. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart (1775).

A suite of famous mineral collections from world-renowned collectors comprise the backbone of the museum.

  • Albert F. Holden Collection – 6,000 specimens and an endowment, 1913
  • E. P. Hancock Collection – New Jersey minerals, 1917
  • H. Karabacek Collection – acquired after 1963
  • A.C. Burrage Collection – including gold and Bisbee azurite and malachite
  • L. H. Bauer Collection – Franklin, New Jersey minerals
  • Rex Bannister Collection – Illinois fluorites
  • T. Szenics Collection – Chilean minerals
  • R.V. Gaines Collection – Mineralogist, geologist, and mine engineer

Figure 6. "The Flor de Lis" - elbaite (watermelon tourmaline) with quartz and albite.Figure 6. “The Flor de Lis” – elbaite (watermelon tourmaline) with quartz and albite.

Spectacular examples of tourmaline abound. “The Flor de Lis,” from the Jonas Mine, Itatiaia, Minas Gerais, Brazil, comprises elbaite (watermelon tourmaline) on quartz with albite (Figure 6). The host rock was a Neoproterozoic granitic pegmatite. The brilliant, ghost white albite forms a swirl of flat, bladed crystals admixed with a large quartz crystal and variegated elbaite – the gemstone member of the tourmaline mineral family. This large and magnificent specimen is on loan from Eugene Meieran. A second case holds a slice from the Smithsonian’s famous “Jolly Green Giant” tourmaline crystal.

Figure 7. Pegmatites minerals from mines and quarries of northeastern United States (photo by Shipherd Reed).Figure 7. Pegmatites minerals from mines and quarries of northeastern United States (photo by Shipherd Reed).

Harvard possesses one of the world’s great collections of minerals of the northeastern United States. At the Flandrau show, they dedicated several cases to displaying the best-of-the-best from their pegmatitic mineral collection (Figure 7 and see video below). The shattered “Rose of Maine,” once a 30-cm-wide, 40 kg, 115000-carat of morganite beryl, originally valued at more than $1 million is there, and it’s accompanied by “The Peach,” a scintillating 7-cm wide crystal of morganite. Both the “Rose of Maine” and “The Peach” were discovered by the Holden Brothers of Sugar Hill Minerals at Bennett Quarry, just west of Buckfield in western Maine in 1989.

Figure 8a. "The Rose of Maine" and "The Peach," morganite beryl from the Bennett Quarry, MaineFigure 8a. “The Rose of Maine” and “The Peach,” morganite beryl from the Bennett Quarry, MaineFrustrated that they not could find a museum buyer to purchase the Rose intact, the brothers differed on whether to keep it whole or slab it out for gemstones. The argument came to hammer blows directed at the Rose and the mineral was crudely split into a number of pieces. One of the larger pieces, the last extant “Rose of Maine” came into the possession of Harvard’s mineral museum (Figures 8a and 8b).

Other illustrious minerals include: watermelon tourmaline slab cut from the Smithsonian’s “Jolly Green Giant”; a black schist hosting coarse garnet crystals from the Red Ember mine of Irving, Massachusetts; purple apatite from Auburn, Maine; and a half-dozen other world class minerals and gems.

Figure 9. Franklin, New Jersey, fluorescent mineral display. Before and after.Figure 9. Franklin, New Jersey, fluorescent mineral display. Before and after.

A small, inset mineral case on the south wall houses a colorful display of fluorescent minerals from Franklin in Sussex County, New Jersey (Figure 9). Franklin is home to the world’s largest collection of fluorescent minerals, and more than 50 minerals have been identified there. The Harvard exhibit includes 15 specimens, some including more than one fluorescent mineral. An abridged list of minerals on display: willemite, margarosanite, calcite with zincite, barite, and tumeareite.

Figure 8b. "The Peach," morganite beryl from the Bennett Quarry, MaineFigure 8b. “The Peach,” morganite beryl from the Bennett Quarry, Maine

And there’s more. Specimens of fluorapatite, babingtonite, wulfenite, bornite and exceedingly rare spangolite that are among some of the finest mineral specimens of their kind in the world.

The American Mineral Heritage: The Harvard Collection exhibit will be at the Flandrau through December 2016. Contact the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium for hours and fees.

Kevin Czaja Curatorial and Research Assistant, Mineralogical & Geological Museum at Harvard University

See video:

Read original article

US now 100% dependent on other countries for 19 critical minerals

A new report from the United States Geological Survey shows that US mineral production dropped in 2015 and left us more dependent on foreign sources for much of our mineral needs.

The USGS report is summarized by Andrew Topf at Mining.com:

Concerns have been raised for years that the United States is too dependent on other countries, namely China, for rare earth elements deemed essential for its aerospace and electronics industries, leading to suggestions that the U.S. create a strategic minerals reserve. However that plan was scotched with the closure of the only rare earths mine last year in the United States, Molycorp’s Mountain Pass facility in California. The mine operated in the red for years and was finally felled by low rare earth prices.

Around 95 percent of rare earths are produced in China and according to the USGS the situation has only gotten worse. In 2015 the United States was 100%-dependent on other countries for 19 minerals commodities including manganese, bauxite and graphite. A map from the report shows Canada and China as the countries the U.S. is most reliant on, followed by South Africa. The U.S. is also over 50 percent dependent on Australia, Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, UK, India, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Mexico for between 4 and 6 commodities.

Metal mines were worst hit, with a 15 percent fall in values, or $26.6 billion, compared to 2014.The USGS blamed declining demand for metals especially in China as well as a global supply glut for several commodities. It also notes the closure of a number of U.S. metals mines including Mountain Pass. The value of processed mineral materials was also lowered from $659 billion in 2014 to $630 billion last year – a 4 percent drop. Read more at Mining.com.

Permitting, Economic Value, and Mining in the United States – Part 2

This is a follow-up to Permitting, Economic Value, and Mining in the United States.

In that post I reported that a new report commissioned by the National Mining Association finds that our current convoluted mine permitting process can cause a mine to lose a third of its value as it waits for the numerous permits needed to begin production. These delays, combined with other risks and costs, cut the expected value of a mine in half. This often makes minerals projects economically unviable and jeopardizes an important feedstock of the manufacturing industry while discouraging investment in the U.S.

The report, produced by SNL Metals & Mining of London, can be downloaded here.

Here I present a 3-minute video featuring Mark Fellows, director of consulting at SNL Metals & Mining. He explains that of all the developed nations, the U.S. is afflicted most severely by protracted delays in obtaining mining permits, impairing and discouraging investments in mineral development projects. Companies need certainty when considering an investment. Currently the permitting process contains many uncertainties and opportunity for delay.

These delays cause manufacturers to become overly reliant on minerals imports, despite a wealth of resources in the U.S. Lawmakers must implement policies that guarantee manufacturers access to the raw materials needed to succeed. Watch to learn more. The video is followed by a new Infographic illustrating the problem.


Arizona was #1 mineral producer in 2014

According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Commodity Summary for 2015, Arizona was the top non-fuel mineral producer in the U.S. in 2014, edging out Nevada which fell to number two because of the drop in gold prices. The top 12 States each produced more than $2 billion worth of non-fuel mineral commodities. These States were, in descending order of value: Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, California, Alaska, Florida, Missouri, Michigan, Wyoming, and Colorado. (Delaware comes in last with $14 million worth of sand and gravel, magnesium compounds, stone, and gemstones.)

In 2014, Arizona produced $8.06 billion worth of minerals which represented over 10% of total U.S. production. Major non-fuel minerals were copper, molybdenum concentrates, sand and gravel, cement, and crushed stone. Arizona produces over two-thirds of U.S. domestically mined copper.

The total impact of the mineral industry on the U.S. economy of was $17.4 trillion in 2014. That figure includes mining, processing, and value added by manufacturing.

The USGS notes that the U.S. is at least 50% reliant on imports for consumption of 43 mineral products and is 100% reliant on imports for 19 of those minerals. However, the U.S. was a net exporter of 17 mineral products.

The table below shows mineral industry trends of production, employment, and wages.

Mineral industry trends 2014

The USGS says:

“The estimated value of U.S. metal mine production in 2014 was $31.5 billion, slightly less than that of 2013. Principal contributors to the total value of metal mine production in 2014 were copper (32%), gold (27%), iron ore (16%), molybdenum (10%), and zinc (6%). Changes in average prices for domestically mined metals were mixed in 2014. After increased yearly average prices from 2002–12, gold prices decreased for the second consecutive year. The estimated value of U.S. industrial minerals mine production in 2014 was $46.1 billion, about 7% more than that of 2013. The value of industrial minerals mine production in 2013 was dominated by crushed stone (28%), cement (17%), and construction sand and gravel (15%). In general, industrial minerals prices increased slightly.”

The Mineral Commodity Summary document provides detailed information on 83 mineral commodities.

AZ Mining Review (episode 22) the Orange Sludge of Patagonia

In mid-October, 2014, heavy rains fueled by Hurricane Odile cause some overflow from abandoned mines near Patagonia, Arizona.

Orange sludge


The Arizona Geological Survey, in its monthly Mining Review, asked geologist Dr. Floyd Gray of the U.S. Geological Survey to explain what happened. Dr. Gray was on the ground and examined several properties and notes there were three “situations” happening due to the rain. Dr. Gray’s portion in the video below begins at the 15:07 minute mark.

Watch the video:


Salt deposits of Arizona

Did you know there are salt mines in Arizona? Arizona has several large rock salt deposits (see story from AZcentral about a large salt mine in Glendale).  Salt is recovered by solution mining where water is pumped into the deposit to dissolve the salt and the resulting brine is put into solar evaporation ponds.  This salt is used for industrial applications. The cavity left by solution mining can be used to store liquid petroleum gas (LPG) as is done near Phoenix and Holbrook, and could be used to store natural gas.  Otherwise the cavity remains filled with water. The Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) notes “Arizona may be the only state in the west with salt bodies large enough for storage of LPG and natural gas between the main sources of supply and demand. The high deliverability of natural gas stored in salt caverns is a distinct advantage over storage in depleted oil and gas fields and aquifer reservoirs.”

AZGS Circular 30 has detailed descriptions of salt deposits in Arizona. The map below shows the location  of Arizona’s salt, known deposits in green, potential deposits in orange.


Rock salt deposits result from evaporation of lakes like the Great Salt Lake of Utah and from evaporation of much smaller closed basins.  There were many such lakes in Arizona.  Salt may be associated with other evaporite minerals such a gypsum and anhydrite, both calcium sulfates.

Tertiary-age salt deposits in the valleys of the Basin and Range province tend to be the thickest, while the older Permian-age deposits on the Colorado Plateau are the most widespread.  According to AZGS, “The Tertiary salt in Maricopa County near Luke Air Force Base west of Phoenix and in Mohave County north of Kingman is at least 6,000 ft thick and may be 8,000 to 10,000 ft thick or more. These deposits cover tens of square miles. Even though the salt deposits in the Holbrook Basin are not as thick as the salt in the Basin and Range Province, they have an aggregate thickness of 655 ft southeast of Holbrook and cover a much larger area. Permian salt underlies more than 3,500 square miles in southern Navajo and Apache Counties.”

Rock salt crops out in places along the Verde River, and precipitated salt occurs along the Salt River  (that’s how it got it’s name).

The known deposits in Arizona were encountered when drilling for other things. Exploration information about known and potential salt deposits comes mainly from gravity surveys and modeling, seismic surveys, and few drill holes.  Major salt deposits are associated with gravity lows (less dense than surrounding rock) and with tightly-spaced gravity contours (indicating a basin). There are four gravity lows in the Tucson Basin which AZGS says may coincide with four sub-basins that could hold salt.

I found this story by following the Arizona Geological Survey on Facebook: their page is here.

See also:

Silver project may become only US source of manganese

The value of mining in Arizona

Shale Oil Potential of Arizona

Mineral potential of the proposed Sonoran Desert Heritage Area

Helium potential of Arizona may help fill shortage

Petroleum and Natural Gas Potential of the Paradox Basin

Arizona may become a major producer of potash

Gold in Arizona

Got rocks in your head? Then attend ‘Mineral Madness’

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum will hold its annual “Mineral Madness” mineral show and sale this weekend, January 19 & 20, 2013.

There will be thousands of minerals on display with something for beginning rock hounds to serious collectors.

In addition to the mineral show, there will be activities for families and children all around the museum grounds, including viewing micro-minerals, painting with minerals and learning about how animals and people use minerals.

See a list of scheduled events at http://www.desertmuseum.org/visit/mineralmad.php

Children will be able to collect a free mineral at each event (bring an egg carton).


Wulfenite, ASDM photo by Jeanne Broome