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6. Raw Materials

How will we ensure reliable supplies when they are needed and where will they come from? The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical raw material needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources

What Is The Need?

Minerals help to sustain life as natural or added supplements in food and drink. Minerals are also essential in just about any product used in daily life from calcite in toothpaste to silicon from silicate minerals in computers, DVDs and solar panels. The global demand for metals, such as aluminum, copper, gold and platinum, has led to a steep rise in their prices. Aggregate, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, or recycled crushed concrete, is an essential building material as well as an essential ingredient in paint, paper, plastics, glass, other household products and in medicines. Aggregates account for more than one-half of the volume of all mining, and more than one-half of all the aggregate produced in the U.S. in the 20th century was mined in the last 25 years of the century (Figure 8).

The foundation of agriculture and healthy ecosystems rests upon the soil. The soil is a critical biozone that must be understood and sustained in order to maintain a robust agricultural system and a healthy ecosystem while dealing with other uses such as biofuel production. Soil filters and stores water and ensures our fresh water resources. There is an immediate need for greater understanding of the effect of multi-uses on soil sustainability.

All of these raw materials must be wisely managed and efficiently prepared for their final use. Geoscientists are needed to locate these materials, assess their quantity and quality, cleanly and efficiently manage their extraction, reduce byproducts or excessive waste and assess strategic needs for low-supply critical materials that are in high demand or relate to national security.


Figure 8: The U.S. Geological Survey tracks supply and demand for natural raw materials, including non-fuel minerals such as aggregate. Graph shows aggregate production in the United States with projections to 2020, based on a growth rate of 1% for stone and 0.5% for sand and gravel.  Data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Raw Materials: Given the increasing need for raw materials in our daily lives, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Significantly increase support for mineral assessments of the nation and the rest of the world conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, state geological surveys and other geoscientists.
  • Support the completion of soil survey and ecological site descriptions on the more than 195 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs/Natural Resources Conservation Service and others.
  • Significantly increase investments in geologic mapping and data preservation in support of assessments, exploration, and production of raw materials, led by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with state geological surveys and other geoscientists.
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Additional Resources

Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

Full Report (PDF)

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With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted on July 7, 2009; Last Updated on September 22, 2009


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