WASHINGTON -- The Department of the Interior announced June 21 that, thanks to a substantial investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, over $74.6 million will be distributed in 30 states to invest in geoscience data collection, mapping, data preservation, and scientific interpretation of areas with potential for critical minerals, under the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, or Earth MRI.
These investments will help improve our understanding of domestic critical mineral resources, a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the critical minerals that power everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.
Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will account for $64 million in this effort. This is part of the broader $510.7 million investment in USGS from the Law to support scientific innovation.
“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes historic investments to support scientific research, data mapping and preservation,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “In order to make data driven decisions based on the best available science, we need to equip our premier science agencies with the resources they need. The funding we are announcing today and the partnerships it will foster will help us research and preserve vital scientific data.”
Under Earth MRI, USGS has partnered with the Association of American State Geologists and state geological surveys to jointly fund and conduct new geologic mapping and geochemical reconnaissance sampling and preserve existing geologic data and samples.
“These historic investments will modernize our mapping of the United States,” said Sarah Ryker, USGS associate director for energy and mineral resources. “The USGS and the state geological surveys collaborated to prioritize areas where new geoscience data will yield new understanding of the potential for sustainable mineral production and mine waste reprocessing and remediation, along with geothermal resources, groundwater and earthquake hazards.”
“Merging federal resources with local knowledge of the state surveys creates an efficient and thorough venue to quickly further national understanding of the distribution of our resources,” said Erin Campbell, president of the Association of American State Geologists. “We at the state geologic surveys truly value our partnership with the USGS.”
The focus of the Fiscal Year 2022 funding includes improving the nation’s mapping of shallow and deep geology. This will lead to better scientific understanding of critical mineral resources – including minerals still in the ground and those found in mine waste materials.
By improving this science, we can better ensure our mining actions in the United States secure the minerals needed for a clean energy revolution while being conducted with strong environmental, sustainability, safety, Tribal consultation and community engagement standards so that the American people can have confidence that the minerals and materials they use are responsibly sourced and our resources are stewarded wisely.
Through the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, geologic mapping will be conducted by state geological surveys. The new maps will refine our understanding of the geologic framework of mineral areas of interest. In addition to helping identify mineral potential, these maps also support decisions about use of land, water, energy and minerals, and the potential impact of geologic hazards on communities.
The National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program partners with Earth MRI to support data preservation. The increased funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will support preservation of physical samples that would be costly or difficult to replace.
The USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) will acquire modern elevation (lidar) data flown by private sector mapping services contractors to fill data gaps in the nation’s topographic mapping in areas with potential for critical mineral resources.
Lidar is a laser-based scanning of terrain to create high-resolution digital elevation models. Lidar helps scientists develop accurate maps that depict the geology exposed at the surface and extrapolate the extent of the rock formations at depth. Lidar data also can help define the location and volume of mine waste materials exposed on the land surface.
The Mineral Resources Program and the state geological surveys will conduct geochemical reconnaissance surveys to provide initial information on under-studied geologic settings, thus helping plan and prioritize future years’ data collection and mapping.
The Mineral Resources Program will also design airborne geophysical surveys that will be flown by private sector airborne geophysical survey contractors in areas with critical mineral potential. Airborne magnetic data indicate the relative amount of magnetic minerals in exposed and deeply buried rocks; airborne radiometric data indicate the relative amounts of potassium, uranium and thorium in exposed rocks and soils. Airborne electromagnetic surveys provide information on concealed minerals and groundwater resources.
This information allows scientists to identify likely locations of rocks and geologic structures (such as faults) associated with critical minerals, geothermal energy resources, groundwater and potential earthquake hazards in the region.