Deposits of undiscovered copper, molybdenum, gold and silver may be present in the Andes Mountains of South America, according to a new scientific assessment.
The assessment estimates that the Andes may hold 750 million metric tons of copper in undiscovered porphyry copper deposits. Mining from these types of deposits provides more than 50 percent of world copper supply.
The undiscovered porphyry copper deposits also have the potential to contain 20 million tons of molybdenum, 13,000 tons of gold and 250,000 tons of silver. Molybdenum, known to occur naturally with copper, is used in industry to harden steel and for catalysts, lubricants, and pigments. Estimated undiscovered molybdenum resources in the Andes represent more than double the current world reserves of 8.6 million tons.
The Andes were studied as part of the first global mineral resource assessment, which is being led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS jointly prepared and published the Andes assessment with experts from the Geological Surveys of Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
The partnership that contributed to the assessment is "a hallmark of international scientific collaboration," said USGS Director Mark Myers. "The expertise of our international collaborators is indispensable to our ability to undertake a worldwide assessment of numerous undiscovered mineral commodities in a variety of geologic environments."
The estimated copper resources in the Andes represent about 2.5 times the amount of undiscovered copper resources that was estimated for the United States in a 1998 USGS assessment of all major types of copper deposits. Not all of the estimated undiscovered mineral deposits are likely to be discovered and developed.
The USGS Mineral Resources Program provides scientific information for objective resource assessments and unbiased research results on mineral potential, production, consumption and environmental effects. This program is the sole federal source for this information.
The complete report, Quantitative Mineral Resource Assessment of Copper, Molybdenum, Gold, and Silver in Undiscovered Porphyry Copper Deposits in the Andes Mountains of South America, by C.G. Cunningham and others is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1253/.
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