Economic geology

(Image credited to Jacques Jangoux / Alamy)

The demand for metals and other natural resources is surging and, in some instances, demand has already outstripped supply. Discovery of new deposits or the exploitation of known lower-grade ore deposits could offer solutions, but their implementation is not always straightforward, given political constraints and the complexities of international trade. This focus issue brings together a collection of review articles and opinion pieces that highlight the emerging science of the processes responsible for the formation of economic-grade ore deposits, and discuss the societal conditions and implications of their exploitation.



Expanding boundaries of exploration p891


Mineral exploration is pushing new frontiers. Given a poor track record on land, mining practises should be honed on home soil before venturing into the oceans.



Road map to mineral supply pp892-894

Richard Herrington


Access to metals and minerals is restricted mostly by geopolitical constraints, and not by a shortage of mineable deposits. In the face of rising demand, a full inventory of these commodities — in the Earth's crust as well as in recyclable waste — is urgently required.

Metals for a low-carbon society pp894-896

Olivier Vidal, Bruno Goffé & Nicholas Arndt


Renewable energy requires infrastructures built with metals whose extraction requires more and more energy. More mining is unavoidable, but increased recycling, substitution and careful design of new high-tech devices will help meet the growing demand.

The phosphorus trilemma pp897-898

Michael Obersteiner, Josep Peñuelas, Philippe Ciais, Marijn van der Velde & Ivan A. Janssens


Mineable phosphorus reserves are confined to a handful of countries. Reductions in wastage could free up this resource for low-income, food-deficient countries.



Continental-root control on the genesis of magmatic ore deposits pp905-910

W. L. Griffin, G. C. Begg & Suzanne Y. O'Reilly


Some giant ore deposits are formed from magma, but the precise controls on their formation are unclear. A Perspective article analyses the distribution of some diamond, platinum-group element and gold deposits worldwide, and suggests that the structure and composition of sub-continental lithospheric mantle could play a role in ore genesis.


Progress Article

Giant ore deposits formed by optimal alignments and combinations of geological processes pp911-916

Jeremy P. Richards


Giant ore deposits are priority targets for mining companies. A review of the characteristics of several giant porphyry and epithermal deposits worldwide suggests that they formed from ordinary processes that were fortuitously operating at maximum efficiency.



Triggers for the formation of porphyry ore deposits in magmatic arcs pp917-925

Jamie J. Wilkinson


Porphyry ore deposits supply much of the copper, molybdenum, gold and silver used by humans. A review of the main processes that trigger porphyry ore formation suggests that sulphide saturation of the magmas that supply the metals could be the overriding mechanism that helps control the temporal and spatial distribution of the ore deposits.


From the archive



Beyond mining


Global demand for raw materials is at an all-time high, and rising. As mining companies scale up their operations in response, society needs to develop strategies to keep damage to a minimum.

Coal's true cost


The deaths of birds have become a rallying point against the proliferation of wind farms. Yet the loss of human life in mines is rarely linked with coal as an energy source.


In the press

Deep sea vent diversity

Alexandra Witze



Research Highlights

Sputnik special: Mining the Moon?

Ninad Bondre



News & Views

Economic geology: Gilded by earthquakes

Dave Craw


Gold is often deposited in Earth's crust by fluids that percolate through rock fractures. Earthquakes cause rock fractures to expand rapidly and could cause the fluids to evaporate, triggering almost instantaneous gold deposition.

Economic geology: Volatile destruction

Bruno Scaillet


Direct evidence for the role of volatiles in magmatic ore formation has been elusive. Magma degassing at Merapi volcano in Indonesia is found to be directly linked to the selective leaching of metals from sulphide melts that ultimately form ore deposits.



Giant uranium deposits formed from exceptionally uranium-rich acidic brines

Antonin Richard, Christophe Rozsypal, Julien Mercadier, David A. Banks, Michel Cuney, Marie-Christine Boiron & Michel Cathelinea


The Athabasca Basin, Canada, is home to some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Analysis of preserved ore-forming fluids and experimental measurement of uranium solubility in analogous solutions show that the giant deposits could have formed relatively rapidly from extremely uranium-rich brines under acidic conditions.

High gold concentrations in sulphide-bearing magma under oxidizing conditions

Roman E. Botcharnikov, Robert L. Linnen, Max Wilke, Francois Holtz, Pedro J. Jugo & Jasper Berndt


Magma transports metals to the Earth's surface to form ore deposits, but only sulphide-undersaturated magmas were thought to be capable of generating large amounts of ore. Laboratory experiments indicate that large volumes of gold ore can also be generated by sulphide-saturated magma, if the redox conditions of the magma are suitable.



Magmatic-hydrothermal origin of Nevada's Carlin-type gold deposits

John L. Muntean, Jean S. Cline, Adam C. Simon & Anthony A. Longo


During the Eocene, profuse magmatism and hydrothermal activity in the Great Basin of western North America produced Earth's second largest concentration of gold in Nevada. An integration of mineral analyses, experimental data and age and isotope data suggests a magmatic source for these deposits.

Sulphide magma as a source of metals in arc-related magmatic hydrothermal ore fluids

Olivier Nadeau, Anthony E. Williams-Jones & John Stix


The metal content of ore deposits formed during subduction-zone volcanism was thought to be established when the ore fluid separates from the parent magma. Analyses of metal concentrations in erupted melts and the volcanic gases emitted after an eruption in Indonesia reveal that metals can be added to the ore fluid later, during mixing with separated melts.

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