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Mineral Resources

Mineral Resources

If you are sitting at your desk, reading this on your phone or computer, look around you. What objects do you see? Beyond your electronic device, you may also have a pencil, your clothes, a wall or windows. Your electronic device is full of metal circuits, and your pencil contains the mineral graphite. Your clothes might contain polyester, a plastic fabric derived from oil. The walls may have plasterboard derived from the mineral gypsum, and the windows are constructed using sand and limestone. The common link between all of these items is the source of raw material used to create them: mineral resources.


Mineral Resources Definition

A mineral is a naturally sourced, solid chemical compound with a crystalline structure.

Minerals have a defined chemical composition, for example gypsum is also known as calcium sulfate dihydrate, or CaSO4·2H2O. Minerals are also categorized based on their unique physical properties, such as:

  • Colour
  • Density
  • Lustre
  • Streak
  • Cleavage
  • Hardness.

A resource is goods or materials that are valuable and useful.

Combine the two definitions together, and we have a mineral resource.

Mineral resources and eras of human technological advancement are intrinsically linked. Early human civilizations are divided into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. You may have also heard our current information technology era described as the silicon age.

Mineral Resource: A concentration of inorganic, naturally occurring, typically solid, non-renewable material with a practical use.

While the definition is straightforward, it doesn't exactly fit for all mineral resources.

  • Most glaringly, oil is clearly categorized as a mineral resource, yet it is a liquid, and it comes from organic sources (decaying and buried organic matter).
  • Limestone is also formed from organic sources (e.g. corals, bivalves, molluscs), and this arguably makes it renewable as well.
  • Granite, for example, is essentially renewable, since new plutons are being formed below the Earth's crust every day.

Yet, at over millions of years to form new limestone or granite, the rate of renewal often outdates us so drastically that it cannot be truly considered renewable.

A mineral reserve is a mineral resource whose mining is economically viable. A mineral resource may be abundant, but mining the mineral it may cost more than its selling price. In this article, most mineral resources are assumed to also be a mineral reserve, but keep it mind this isn't always so.

Mineral Resources Types

Mineral resources are classified into distinct categories (Fig 1.). The first two major categories, metallic and non-metallic, are based on the metal content of the mineral resource.

A metal is a solid mineral that is reflective, without a crystalline structure, malleable and electrically conductive.

A metal ore is a mineral, rock, or sediment that contains a concentrated and economically relevant amount of metal.

Metallic mineral resources are further split into two groups, ferrous and non-ferrous, based on whether the metal contains iron. Rare earth elements (REE) are a special series of metallic non-ferrous mineral resources, in high demand because of their practical uses in our burgeoning modern electronic world.

Every so often, you may come across a separate category for a special subset of non-metallic mineral resources: fuel. As previously mentioned, fuels are generally pretty unique. Not only are they easily combustible, they also barely fit our definition of mineral resource. They can be found in solid (coal), liquid (petroleum) or gaseous (natural gas) phases. Fuels are not inorganic, they are the product of decayed organic matter. Largely, fuels are non-renewable and naturally occurring, but this part of the definition is also tenuous. As we speak, engineers are hard at work trying to develop a method to extract natural gas from animal wastes. Nonetheless, fuels are still a mineral resource.

Sources of Mineral Resources

The source of almost all mineral reserves is the lithosphere, which is the upper part of the Earth's crust. As you will learn, there are three different geological sources that form mineral resources. The common link between these sources is that they transport and accumulate minerals.

We call the outer solid part of the earth the Lithosphere.

Magmatic Sources

Most mineral reserves are a direct result of magmatic bodies.

Magma is the molten rock material found in the mantle, below the lithosphere.

Magma chambers are immense subsurface cavities in the Earths crust (Fig. 2).

Eventually, a magma chamber stops being replenished with magma, and starts to cool down. During the slow cooldown phase, minerals form preferentially within the magma chamber, a process called crystal fractionation. Magma is the most common source of rare earth elements. Other minerals derived from magma are feldspar or mica minerals. Perhaps you own a granite countertop that was once a buried magma chamber.

mineral resources + magmatic magma chamber + StudySmarterFig. 2. An illustration of two possible mechanisms, a) or b), of mineral formation in magma chambers. The steps c, d and e are similar for both processes.

Sedimentary Sources

There are numerous types of water bodies, and each yields their own unique mineral resources. Generally speaking, most water bodies will accumulate minerals as some form of sedimentary deposition. A small, quiet, inland lake, after being separated from a river, allows fine clay particles to settle, creating a clay mineral deposit. Evaporating saline lakes leave behind salt flats. These special minerals, evaporites (Fig. 3), can be harvested for gypsum, lithium, or table salt.

Evaporites: Horizontally placed rocks or minerals that are deposited after the evaporation of briny or saline waters.

Bogs are distinctly renowned for generating peat, which is the first step to coal formation. High velocity water bodies, such as rivers and streams, leave behind placer deposits. The river drops heavier materials, like gravel, or heavy metals such as gold, while carrying away all other finer materials such as sand, silt, and clay.

mineral resources + sedimentary salt flat evaporite + StudySmarterFig. 3. A picture of the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. The evaporites at this location are a mix of sodium, potassium, lithium, and magnesium chlorides.

Hydrothermal Sources

Some minerals are created when water (hydro-) percolates downwards through the lithosphere, and reaches a heat source (-thermal). The water heats up, and is capable of dissolving more solute. The water eventually flows away from the heat source, carrying along dissolved chemicals. As the water cools down, the minerals precipitate out of solution, creating hydrothermal deposits. Here are three major hydrothermal sources for mineral reserves.

Sulphide Deposits

Sulphide deposits are a specific type of hydrothermal source (Fig. 4) found at tectonic plate spreading centres at the bottom of the ocean. Metal and sulphides are dissolved in ocean water near these hot spots. The dissolved minerals later precipitate out of solution when the solute reaches cooler ocean water.

mineral resources + hydrothermal vent sulphide + StudySmarterFig. 4. A hydrothermal vent in the Mariana Trench. Notice the yellowish brown features on this vent, which is indicative of sulphide minerals. NOAA Ocean Exploration.

Vein Deposits

Vein deposits are mineral reserves precipitated out of solution in the bedrock cracks around a magma chamber. These result in quartz and calcite veins, but also yield precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper. Occasionally, these mineral reserves can contain rare earth minerals.

Stratabound Deposits

Stratabound deposits are mineral reserves accumulated in a sedimentary rock layer, or strata. Sedimentary rock layers tend to have a high percentage of void space per volume, known as porosity. When thermally heated water flows through these rock layers, it may precipitate out minerals. Examples of stratabound deposits are the minerals containing lead, zinc, or copper metals.

Examples of Mineral Resources

Now that you have learned how to classify mineral resources, let's review some examples of minerals we humans are actively mining. The following table (Fig. 5) has sorted the examples of mineral resources by type in the vertical columns, and by source in the horizontal columns.

Importance of Mineral Resources

Now it is time to learn the impact these minerals have on our lives. Most importantly, and perhaps obviously, the mining of mineral resources supplies the raw materials we use to build the objects surrounding us. Combined with the use of technology, humankind has the uncanny ability to turn a shapeless lump into an object with an application. From the first wheels constructed out of stone during the Palaeolithic, all the way to nanocomputers and satellites, the importance of minerals as building blocks should be self-evident.

  • Clay is used for pottery, bricks, and tiles.
  • Metals are critical in the domains of industry, and transportation, and electronics.
  • Gypsum is used to make plasterboard.
  • Sand, soda ash and limestone are combined to manufacture glass.
  • Plastics are derived from fossil fuels.

The list is endless.

Reach for any object near you and try to learn what mineral resources were required to create it. Almost every object you touch can be traced to one or more mineral resource! Find out where the mining of these minerals is occurring. Are the mineral reserves local, or from another country or continent?

Mineral resources that are directly used for construction, such as clay, stone, gypsum, sand or gravel, are categorized as construction minerals. Industrial minerals, on the other hand, are the non-metallic mineral resources that are mined and modified after an industrial process, such as slate, talc, limestone or dolomite.

Furthermore, we have been able to extract energy out of mineral resources.

Early civilizations used oil and coal as a source of light or heat for metalworking. The combination of steam power and coal accelerated the development of civilization during the industrial revolution. Because of Wales and England's plentiful mineral reserves, the demand for coal mining launched the British Isles into a new dawn of civilization. For the past 100 years, fossil fuels have been the main source of energy for our larger modes of transportation, such as automobiles and aeroplanes. Nuclear energy employs radioactive minerals, mainly Uranium, to harness the energy released during nuclear fission. As our demand for electronics and electric vehicles increase, so does the demand for batteries and the lithium minerals that powers them.

We even ingest mineral resources! We use salt to accentuate a bland meal, and clays to thicken our milkshakes. After binging on salty snacks and sugary dairy treats, one must inevitably reach for the antacid, some of which are simply calcium carbonate, or calcite minerals. Further medical uses are talc as baby powder, pumice stone to remove calluses or plaster of Paris, derived from gypsum, to form casts around broken bones. Finally, phosphates mining leads to the enrichment of agricultural soils, which helps provide us with food.

Economically, mining these resources is important. The location of mineral reserves is geologically defined, and therefore not equitably distributed within geopolitical lines. There, harvesting these minerals has created its own mining economy where trading minerals between countries is crucial. Below is a map of England, showing the location of a few active mineral mining operations (Fig. 5).

mineral resources + England mining + StudySmarterFig. 5 A map of England, showcasing the mining sites for some mineral resources.


Hopefully you now know more about mineral resources. Next time you treat yourself to a portion of chips, think about the mineral resource that the saltiness came from.

Mineral Resources - Key takeaways

  • A Mineral Resource is a concentration of inorganic, naturally occurring, typically solid, non-renewable material with a practical use.
  • Types of metallic resources are metallic and non-metallic. Metallic mineral resources can be iron-bearing (ferrous) or not (non-ferrous).
  • The sources of mineral resources are most commonly magmatic, sedimentary or hydrothermal.
  • Examples of mineral resources are iron, diamond, gold, silver, copper, aluminium, granite, marble, clay, table salt, rare earth elements or fossil fuels.
  • Mineral resources provide us with raw building materials for nearly most objects around us, as well as food, energy, or raw materials that enhance our health and agriculture.

References

  1. Fig. 1. Magma Chamber (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Magma_chamber.png) by Willem Kruger & Rais Latypov is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
  2. Fig. 2 Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia (https://unsplash.com/photos/OLc6qPfizeA) by Diego Aguilar (https://unsplash.com/@diego_aguilar) is licensed by Unsplash License (https://unsplash.com/license)
  3. Fig. 3. Hydrothermal Vent (https://flic.kr/p/2kSQknT) by NOAA Ocean Exploration (https://www.flickr.com/photos/oceanexplorergov/) is licensed by CC-BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
  4. Fig. 5. Distribution of Principal Industrial Mineral Workings (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Distribution_of_Principal_Industrial_Mineral_Workings.jpg) by DarkestElephant (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:DarkestElephant&action=edit&redlink=1) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Frequently Asked Questions about Mineral Resources

Mineral resources are a concentration of inorganic, naturally occurring, typically solid, non-renewable material with a practical use. 

Examples of mineral resources are iron, diamond, gold, silver, copper, aluminium, granite, marble, gypsum, clay, salt, rare earth elements, or fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). 

Mineral resources are important because they provide us with the raw materials used for building structures (clay, steel from iron), electronics (copper, gold, rare earth elements) or tools.  Fossil fuels and uranium provide us with energy, and phosphates enhance agriculture.

The 3 types of mineral resources are metallic, non-metallic and fuels.

The three main sources of mineral resources are magmatic, hydrothermal, and sedimentary.

Final Mineral Resources Quiz

Question

Define geological processes.

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Answer

Geological processes are the natural forces that shape the physical planet.

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Question

What is the geological timescale?

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Answer

The geological timescale is a 'calendar' of all of Earth's history.

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Question

Describe how mantle convection currents work.

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Answer

The mantle is heated by the core and rises towards the surface. It cools and sinks, dragging the crust's tectonic plates above it.

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Question

What is the difference between weathering and erosion?

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Answer

Erosion involves the movement of rock particles, whilst weathering does not.

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Define deposition.

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Answer

Deposition is the laying down of sediment.

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Question

What are some hazards commonly experienced at tectonic plates?

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Hazards commonly experienced at tectonic plates include earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

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What is a hazard?

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A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm to life and human property.

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Question

Rock moves rapidly downhill, often mixed in with mud. What hazard is this?

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Answer

Landslide

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How are landforms categorised?

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Physical attributes

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What is the mantle?

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The mantle is Earth's second layer, made up of semi-molten or solid silicate rock.

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What are some examples of coastal landforms?

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Answer

Spits

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What soil features can influence plant growth?

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Answer

Soil properties and mineral composition can influence plant growth.

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Which minerals support healthy teeth?

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Answer

Calcium

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What is an earthquake?

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An earthquake is a sudden violent shaking of the Earth's surface.

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Define peat bogs.

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Answer

Peat bogs are dense wetlands filled with partially decayed vegetation

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Question

There are many negative environmental impacts that can result from mining activities. Some examples include...

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Deforestation/habitat destruction

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Question

True or False: Local indigenous human populations are also often negatively affected by tin mines.

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Answer

True

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Question

Through a process called _______, hazardous chemicals build up in the tissue of organisms and affect other organisms further up the food chain that use the fish as a food resource (including humans). 

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Answer

Biomagnification

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It is estimated that, worldwide, mines discharge ________ of hazardous materials into water bodies annually.

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Answer

180 million tons

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The Grasberg Mine alone discharges around ________ of waste, a staggering ____ of the worldwide total, annually into the Aikwa River and the Arafura Sea.

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Answer

80 million tons; 44.4%

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Question

Illegal sand mining operations around a wildlife sSanctuary in the state of Madhya Pradesh are believed to have decimated the local population of _________.

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Answer

Indian gharials (Gavialis gangeticus)

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Around ___ of the world’s population currently relies on coal power.

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Answer

40%

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The burning of coal currently makes up around ___ of the carbon dioxide emissions worldwide annually.

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40%

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Indonesia is the world’s leading supplier of tin and ___ of that tin is mined on the Bangka and Belitung islands.

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90%

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What unexpected impact is tin mining believed to have had in the Bangka-Belitung Islands?

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Answer

Saltwater crocodiles began attacking and preying upon people with greater frequency.

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___ of the bat species present in the United States use abandoned mines as habitat for a wide variety of purposes.

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Answer

64%

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What is one positive impact of mining on the environment?

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Answer

It provides habitat for some wildlife species, particularly bats.

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This mine, which is owned by the world's largest mining company, discharged 90 million tons of waste annually into downstream river systems for a period of nearly 30 years.

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Answer

Ok Tedi Mine

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Illegal sand mining has become such a problem in parts of India that sand miners are now referred to as the...

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Answer

"Sand mafia"

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True or False: Hazardous chemicals, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury, are contained within mine waste.

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Answer

True

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What is the outermost layer of Earth?

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The crust

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What is the temperature of the inner core?

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The inner core is 5200°C.

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Define the lithosphere.

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The lithosphere is the solid outer layer of Earth.

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What does the lithosphere comprise?

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The lithosphere comprises the crust and the upper mantle.

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How thick is continental lithosphere?

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120 miles

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How thick is oceanic lithosphere?

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60 miles

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Define the geothermal gradient.

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The geothermal gradient is how Earth's temperature increases with depth.

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How does the mantle drive the movement of tectonic plates?

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The high temperatures of the mantle make rock more elastic, so it melts and flows, driving the movement of tectonic plates.

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What is a bar?

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A bar is a metric unit of pressure, equivalent to 100 kilopascals (kPa).

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Pressure in the lithosphere decreases with depth.

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Answer

False

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The buildup of pressure in the lithosphere can result in what hazards?

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Answer

Volcanic eruptions

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Define magma.

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Answer

Magma is molten rock found in the mantle.

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What is the most common element in the lithosphere?

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Answer

The most common element in the lithosphere is oxygen.

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Define minerals.

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Answer

Minerals are natural solid compounds formed through geological processes.

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What is the chemical formula for silica?

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Answer

SiO2

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What is a mineral resource?

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Answer

A concentration of inorganic, naturally occurring, typically solid, non-renewable material with a practical use.

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What is a mineral reserve?

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Answer

A mineral resource whose mining is economically viable.

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Question

True or False? Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are metallic.

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a significant source of mineral resources.

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Answer

Asteroids

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Question

True or False?  Stratabound deposits are a hydrothermal source of mineral resources.

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Answer

True

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