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General Information Product 17

The Life Cycle of a Mineral Deposit—A Teacher’s Guide for Hands-On Mineral Education Activities

By Dave Frank, John Galloway, and Ken Assmus


Photo of a thin slice of an igneous rock viewed under a polarizing microscope


This teacher's guide defines what a mineral deposit is and how a mineral deposit is identified and measured, how the mineral resources are extracted, and how the mining site is reclaimed; how minerals and mineral resources are processed; and how we use mineral resources in our every day lives. Included are 10 activitybased learning exercises that educate students on basic geologic concepts; the processes of finding, identifying, and extracting the resources from a mineral deposit; and the uses of minerals. The guide is intended for K through 12 Earth science teachers and students and is designed to meet the National Science Content Standards as defined by the National Research Council (1996). To assist in the understanding of some of the geology and mineral terms, see the Glossary (appendix 1) and Minerals and Their Uses (appendix 2).

The process of finding or exploring for a mineral deposit, extracting or mining the resource, recovering the resource, also known as beneficiation, and reclaiming the land mined can be described as the “life cycle” of a mineral deposit. The complete process is time consuming and expensive, requiring the use of modern technology and equipment, and may take many years to complete. Sometimes one entity or company completes the entire process from discovery to reclamation, but often it requires multiple groups with specialized experience working together.

Mineral deposits are the source of many important commodities, such as copper and gold, used by our society, but it is important to realize that mineral deposits are a nonrenewable resource. Once mined, they are exhausted, and another source must be found. New mineral deposits are being continuously created by the Earth but may take millions of years to form. Mineral deposits differ from renewable resources, such as agricultural and timber products, which may be replenished within a few months to several years.

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Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Created: December 9, 2005
Last modified: December 9, 2005 (mfd)