About Economic Geology

Solutions to Find and Extract Minerals

Ore deposits are only a tiny fraction of the earth’s crust. Statistics show that less than one percent of mineral exploration projects actually result in mines. In contrast, success in the petroleum industry is more than 10 times that rate.

Mineral exploration is expensive and high risk because of limited geologic knowledge – particularly at depth – and because of incomplete understanding of the ore-forming processes that control the distribution of minerals over geologic space and across hundreds of millions of years of geologic time.

Ongoing research at the University of Arizona builds on more than a century of applied geological studies. We are conducting geochemical, geological and mineralogical studies on the origin, character, distribution and dispersion of mineralizing systems – which are larger and more numerous than the deposits themselves.

These mineral resources may be far larger than previously thought – in known districts, as well as new deposits within a few kilometers of the earth’s surface. These deposits are within reach of new technologies being developed for mining in extreme conditions – and with minimum surface impact.

Many are related to the magmatic and tectonic development of the Western margins of the American continent over the last 200 million years.

We’re focusing on rich deposits from the American Southwest through Mexico and the Central Andes. Known as the Cordillera of the Americas, this region contains a diverse selection of the world’s greatest mineral deposits – notably copper, gold and other base and precious metals.

Our work revolves around 4-D characterization of mineralized terrains – the three spacial dimensions of length, width and depth (or height) – plus the fourth dimension of time.

We have added to the 3-D geological understanding of primary mineralization in several porphyry districts where there is tremendous need to explore at greater depth. We’re gaining insights on how to more effectively accomplish this and do so under post-mineral cover. This could add decades to the productive lives of existing mines.

Copper deposits of the type found in Arizona and along the mountain belts of the circum-Pacific form in the roots of ancient volcanic centers. In these areas, fluids escape from crystallizing magmas (lava once erupted) and concentrate copper, molybdenum and other rare elements, including silver, gold and the high-tech metal rhenium in relatively small volumes of rock.

Our research can improve your understanding of exploration targets. Using advanced isotopic analyses, micro-probe analyses, detailed mapping and palinspastic reconstructions, we can help you expand your resource base – at the mine, district or regional scale.

Research at the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources focuses on the immediate needs and long-term interests of our multiple collaborative partners – including some of the world’s largest base-metal and precious-metal mining companies, as well as exploration companies and geological surveys.

Among recent findings:

  • We’ve developed a fundamentally new paradigm for the structural dismemberment of the upper crust that has direct implications for understanding the inventory and distribution of mineralized systems – including undiscovered ore deposits.
  • Our field results in the Copiapó area of northern Chile, combined with lab-based petrology and geochemistry, confirm that the iron-oxide-copper-gold family is related to circulation of high-salinity fluids of non-magmatic origin – in contrast to the origin of porphyry and related deposits.
  • We can measure strontium isotopes in minerals in situ, as well as lithium, boron and silicate oxygen. We are one of only a few labs in the U.S. that can make these measurements and the only lab focused on mineral deposit studies.