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Understanding Our Planet Through Chemistry


This WWW document describes the role of chemistry in issues vital to our economy, health, and well-being. When we are analyzing a sample of the Earth, we never ask if a specific element is present. Virtually every sample of the Earth contains every natural element at some amount. The more appropriate questions are: How much of it is present? Is there enough to be mined profitably? In the environment, is it dangerous at this level or in this form? And after we've identified the issues that we need to solve about our planet, we then need to ask, What clues can we find that will give us the answer?

We will show you how many geologic problems are solved using routine analyses of the major components of rocks. We will also show you the complexity of analyzing trace amounts of common components in extremely small samples, such as rare samples of air from more than 100 million years ago, tiny samples of ore-forming fluids that were entombed in minerals 300 million years ago, or small amounts of naturally-occurring radioactive isotopes that are as old as the Earth. Because some elements in our environment are hazardous at trace levels, they must be analyzed down to those low levels. The impact of quality control on analyses will also be discussed, as well as the production of standard reference materials that are distributed internationally to Federal and private laboratories.

As the primary Federal Earth-Science Agency, the USGS studies and provides solutions to questions concerning our planet, assesses the mineral resources of Federal lands, and serves as a repository for geochemical data generated by numerous Federal programs. These data are being applied to new economic and environmental concerns and provide a cost effective method to solve geochemical problems, often with no impact on wilderness or fragile refuges.

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