The Future is At Our Feet

NRRI develops Precambrian Research Center
to teach future geologists

Valuable minerals lie beneath our feet, but if we don’t know where to dig, they will stay locked underground. NRRI economic geologists have done extensive mapping of Minnesota’s bedrock terrain for minerals exploration. Now, however, they are looking to the future and hoping to train the next generation of skilled field geologists.

Our beginning of time starts in the Precambrian era – including the formation of the earth itself – and stretches ahead some four billion years to the Cambrian era.
Bedrock that formed during Precambrian time holds valuable minerals, and Minnesota is rich with this mineral-laden rock, but it’s a challenge for geologists to map it. The young earth was quite volatile and volcanic, causing melting, shifting, uplifting and eroding of the bedrock. It left behind a complex mix of rock and minerals. Photos: Above - UMD geology student Paul Albers and Mark Jirsa of the Minnesota Geological Survey discuss geology over a map of the Mesabi Iron Range. Below: Precambrian rock shown in red.

Globalization of the world’s economy and a spectacular rise in the standard of living of millions of people means we need to be smart with how we use our earth’s resources. The minerals industry is entering an anticipated era of expansion, but that growth is slowed by a need for trained field geologists, especially in the Precambrian terrains that hold much of the world’s ore deposits. More than ever, geoscientists skilled in modern mapping and map-making are in high demand.

NRRI economic geologist Dean Peterson has teamed up with Jim Miller of the Minnesota Geological Survey to form the Precambrian Research Center at NRRI. The center will provide training and support to upper-level college students, as well as professional geologists, in modern methods of geologic mapping of glaciated Precambrian terrains. It has received strong support from UMD’s College of Science and Engineering and is a collaboration between the NRRI, UMD’s Department of Geological Sciences and the Minnesota Geological Survey.

“This is a new way we geologists can help NRRI meet its mission of supporting natural resource-based industries,” said Peterson. “Iron ore is in high demand world-wide and is expected to continue to rise. We just need more specially trained geologists to map the geology, interpret geological processes and predict where potential ore deposits may be found.”

This summer, the Precambrian Research Center at NRRI will launch a 6 credit, 6 week Precambrian field camp for both undergraduate and graduate students from throughout North America, which will include a week of mapping, and primitive camping, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Center will provide research assistantships and grants to qualified students, as well as continuing education and field experiences in advanced mapping courses for professional geologists. Digital geologic mapping and upper-level courses on field mapping will also be offered.

The Center will rely on expert advice and direction from a preeminent board of advisors with members from minerals exploration and mining industries, the U.S. Geological Survey, State and Provincial Surveys, and U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities.

“Geologic mapping is quickly becoming a lost art,” said Miller. “We simply have not been mentoring students in this experience-intensive activity. This Center will hopefully help reverse that trend by creating well-trained mappers who can pick up where we leave off in unraveling the mysteries of the Precambrian.”

--- June Kallestad

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