Minerals can be defined as solid chemical substances, which have their own chemical characteristics, atomic structures and physical properties. They can be found everywhere in the world and their formation is dependent upon natural biogeochemical processes. However, it is only in a few places where such minerals accumulate or concentrate to form deposits, which are economically viable for extraction. This article will discuss the formation of mineral resources and the process of concentration which leads to deposit formation.
According to geologists, there are three main methods of concentration that give rise to various types of minerals. The resulting mineral deposits are known as igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic mineral deposits.
The term ‘igneous’ derives from Latin and refers to a ‘fire rock’ which originates from lava or magma. When a collection of magma within the earth’s crust cools and crystallize with time, it can give rise to an igneous mineral deposit. The same can take place when the magma outflows on the earth’s surface as lava, and becomes crystallized through a cooling process. In any of these events, the formed igneous rock consists of a variety of different minerals with several minerals predominating depending on the circumstances.
When it comes to sedimentary type of mineral deposits, it is the size and the density of the minerals that makes them sedimentary. For example, gold as a heavy mineral would settle in the streambed, whereas minerals such as titanium may be carried by waves to be deposited on the beach. In addition, minerals such as calcium carbonate and salt may precipitate from water as the chemical composition of the water changes from its normal constituency due to various reasons, such as heat and acidity.
During the metamorphic process of mineral deposit formation, various pressures and temperatures act on already established rocks and other mineral deposits to form new minerals that may themselves form economically viable deposits. However, they may not act alone when forming different minerals because the metamorphic process is usually a single event of a chain of events that may start with other types of mineral depositions. For instance, the sedimentation from plant and animal remains may undergo metamorphic changes following the application of pressure and heat within the earth’s crust to form oil and gas.
Once the deposits are formed, scientists can make use of multiple modalities to find the most economically viable deposits. Among these modalities, remote sensing or the use of aerial photography, satellite imaging and sound waves or geo-chemical surveys, which look into the presence of certain chemical indicators, should be highlighted.
Following the recognition of economically viable mineral deposits, they can be harnessed or extracted using many different methods. However, through any of these methods, it takes only few years of work to deplete most mineral deposits which were formed over millions of years. At the same time, the environmental damage caused when such extractions are undertaken could also be detrimental towards humans and all living things. Thus, it is the responsibility of those who seek such natural resources to take measures to minimize the damage and be mindful of the limitations and the measures that should at least allow the natural balances to prevail.