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Chapter 14
Geology and Nonrenewable Mineral Resources
Tectonic plates have rearranged the earth’s continents and ocean basins over millions of years like pieces of a
gigantic jigsaw puzzle. The plates have three types of boundaries. Natural hazards such as earthquakes and
volcanoes are likely to be found at plate boundaries.
Rocks are large, natural, continuous parts of the earth’s crust. There are three major types of rocks: igneous,
sedimentary, and metamorphic. Rocks are affected by changes of physical and chemical conditions that change
them over time from one type to another through the rock cycle.
Mineral resources include all naturally occurring materials that are used for human purposes. These resources
include metals and fossil fuels, and the distribution of these materials across the earth’s surface is highly
variable leading to concentrated deposits in certain areas (e.g., diamonds in Angola or oil in Saudi Arabia).
This unequal distribution can lead to conflicts and has implications for national security and international
Mineral resource extraction methods include surface and subsurface mining. Surface mining types are open-pit,
strip, contour strip mining, and mountain removal. Resource extraction technologies are constantly changing
but always create some environmental disturbance. In some cases, the environmental impacts of mineral
extraction can be severe.
All mineral resources are finite but the lifetime of materials varies with the rate of use and the size of the
resource. Recycling of mineral resources leads to a longer depletion time compared to those that cannot be
reused or recycled.
Scientists are developing new types of materials as substitutes for many metals. Mineral conservation and more
sustainable manufacturing processes are helping to decrease our use and waste of such resources. Recent,
dramatic increases in the cost of minerals are driving aggressive recycling of many resources and particularly
metals (e.g., copper).
Key Questions and Concepts
14-1 What are the earth’s major geological processes and hazards?
A. The earth is made up of a core, mantle, and crust and is constantly changing as a result of processes taking
place on and below its surface. Geology is the study of dynamic processes occurring on the earth’s surface
and in its interior.
B. Huge volumes of heated and molten rock moving around the earth’s interior form massive solid tectonic
plates that move extremely slowly across the earth’s surface. About 12 or so rigid tectonic plates move
across the surface of the mantle very slowly. These thick plates compose the lithosphere.
C. The movement of these plates produces mountains on land and trenches on the ocean floor. The movement
of plates also produces earthquakes and volcanic action.
D. Some processes wear down the earth’s surface by moving topsoil and pieces of rock from one place to
another, while other processes build up soil on the earth’s surface. Weathering is the physical, chemical,
and biological processes that break down rocks and minerals into smaller pieces.
Instructor's Manual: Chapter 14
14-2 How are the earth’s rocks recycled?
A. The earth’s crust consists of solid inorganic elements and compounds called minerals and rocks that can
sometimes be used as resources. Examples of mineral resources are fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas),
metallic minerals (such as aluminum, iron, and copper), and nonmetallic minerals (such as sand, gravel,
and limestone). As they take so long to produce, these components of the earth’s natural capital are
classified as nonrenewable mineral resources.
B. Mineral resources can be classified into four major categories:
1. Identified resources with a known location, quantity, and quality.
2. Reserves are identified resources that can be extracted profitably at current prices.
3. Undiscovered reserves are potential supplies of a mineral resource assumed to exist.
4. Other resources are undiscovered resources and identified resources not classified as reserves.
C. Deposits of nonrenewable mineral resources in the earth’s crust vary in their abundance and distribution.
For example, iron and aluminum are fairly abundant whereas manganese, chromium, cobalt, and platinum
are fairly scarce.
D. A very slow chemical cycle recycles three types of rock found in the earth’s crust. The earth’s crust
contains igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks that are recycled by the rock cycle.
1. Igneous rock is formed below or on the earth’s surface when molten rock wells up and hardens.
They form the bulk of the earth’s crust.
2. Sedimentary rock is formed from small, eroded pieces of rock that are carried to downhill sites.
Layers accumulate over time and an increase of weight and pressure plus dissolved minerals bind the
sediment particles together to form sedimentary rock.
3. Metamorphic rock is produced from preexisting rock that is subjected to high temperatures, high
pressures, chemically active fluids, or some combination of these.
14-3 What are mineral resources and what are the environmental effects of using them?
A. The extraction, processing, and use of mineral sources have a large environmental impact. The greatest
danger from mineral extraction may be environmental damage from the processes used to get to the end
B Minerals are removed through a variety of methods that vary widely in their costs, safety factors, and levels
of environmental harm. Shallow deposits are removed by surface mining, and deep deposits are removed
by subsurface mining.
C. Mining scars the land and produces large amounts of solid waste and air and water pollution. The impacts
include high costs (into the billions of dollars), subsidence, toxin and acid drainage, toxics emission to the
D. After waste material is removed from metal ores they are smelted or treated with chemicals to extract the
desired metal. There can be enormous amounts of air and water pollution from these processes.
CORE CASE STUDY: For example, cyanide is used to separate about 85% of the world’s gold ore in a
process called cyanide heap extraction.
14-4 How long will supplies of nonrenewable mineral resources last?
A. The future supply of a resource depends on its affordable supply and how rapidly that supply is used. A
nonrenewable resource generally becomes economically depleted rather than totally depleted. There are
five choices at that point: recycle or reuse existing supplies, waste less, use less, find a substitute, or do
B. A rising price for a scarce mineral resource can increase supplies and encourage more efficient use.
Economics determines what part of a known mineral supply is extracted and used. Higher prices often
mean more resources can be used (at a higher extraction cost), but this can be affected by national policies
that subsidize exploration or restrict exports/imports.
C. New technologies can increase the mining of low-grade ores at affordable prices, but harmful
environmental effects can limit this approach. In 1900, the average copper ore mined in the U.S. was about
5% copper by weight; today that ratio is 0.5%.
SCIENCE FOCUS: nanotechnology offers new promise (and concerns) for mineral exploration.
Geology and Nonrenewable Mineral Resources
D. Most minerals in seawater and on the deep ocean floor cost too much to extract, and there are squabbles
over who owns them. Rich hydrothermal deposits of gold, silver, zinc, and copper are found as sulfide
deposits in the deep-ocean floor and around hydrothermal vents. Another potential source from the ocean
floor is potato-sized manganese nodules that cover about 25–50% of the Pacific Ocean floor.
14-5 How can we use mineral resources more sustainably?
A. Scientists and engineers are developing new types of materials that can serve as substitutes for many
metals. This is known as the materials revolution. For example, development of silicon and ceramics may
replace the need for as much metal.
B. Recycling valuable and scarce metals saves money and has a lower environmental impact than mining and
extracting them from their ores. In many cases, metals are actively recycled.
C. We can use mineral resources more sustainably by reducing their use and waste and by finding substitutes
with fewer harmful environmental effects.
D. Growing signs point to an ecoindustrial revolution taking place over the next 50 years. The goal is to make
industrial manufacturing processes cleaner and more sustainable by redesigning them to mimic how nature
deals with wastes.
CASE STUDY: One way is to mimic nature by recycling and reusing most minerals and chemicals instead
of disposing of them. Another is to have industries interact through resource exchange webs (FIGURE 1425—industrial ecosystem in Kalundborg, Denmark).
Key Terms
area strip mining (p. 357)
contour strip mining (p. 357)
core (p. 345)
crust (p. 347)
depletion time (p. 361)
earthquake (p. 350)
geology (p. 345)
high-grade ore (p. 355)
igneous rock (p. 353)
lithosphere (p. 347)
low-grade ore (p. 355)
Instructor's Manual: Chapter 14
mantle (p. 345)
metamorphic rock (p. 353)
mineral (p. 353)
mineral resource (p. 354)
mountaintop removal (p. 357)
open-pit mining (p. 357)
ore (p. 354)
overburden (p. 357)
reserves (p. 355)
rock (p. 353)
rock cycle (p. 353)
sedimentary rock (p. 353)
smelting (p. 359)
spoils (p. 355)
strip mining (p. 357)
subsurface mining (p. 355)
surface mining (p. 355)
tectonic plates (p. 347)
tsunami (p. 351)
volcano (p. 349)
weathering (p. 348)
ABC News Videos
Mt. Merapi Volcano Eruption; Biology in the Headlines, 2006, DVD ISBN: 0495016020
Indonesian Earthquake; Biology in the Headlines, 2006, DVD ISBN: 0495016020
Additional Video Resources
Oil on Ice (Documentary, 2004)
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Drilling for Oil.
Earth Revealed: Birth of a Theory and Plate Dynamics (Annenberg Video on Demand)
Geology and Nonrenewable Mineral Resources
Savage Earth (PBS series)
U.S. Mining Law Contested (Short Documentary, 2008)
A six-minute National Geographic video discusses the controversy of modern applications of the 1872 mining law.
Black Diamonds (Documentary, 2005)
Mountain top removal and mining in the Appalachian Mountains.
Web Resources
US Geological Survey
USGS global mineral use report.
Canadian Geologic Survey
Global resource distribution and global geologic maps.
Environmental group’s website showing mining impacts.
World Coal Institute
Coal trade association’s page about the environmental impacts of coal.
Instructor's Manual: Chapter 14
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