Geologists believe valuable minerals may lie in northeast Iowa

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — There may be billions of dollars worth of minerals buried underground waiting to be discovered in northeast Iowa. If true, it could lead to a boom for the state in the decades to come.

The Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa is on a treasure hunt.

That’s after the U.S. Geological Survey determined ten counties in northeast Iowa form a treasure map of sorts similar to an area in Duluth, Minnesota. In Duluth, a complex has a trillion dollars worth of minerals that are being discovered.

Geologists in Iowa have reason to believe Iowa may also be a site of such treasure.

For Ryan Clark, a geologist with the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa, ever rock is like a book. He sees a story, a history waiting to be discovered.

The chapter in Clark’s career right now is to find out the age of rocks taken from a core drilled in Elkader back in the ’60s.

To determine the age of those rocks gives them the ability to link Iowa to Duluth and the knowledge to know that valuable material may also lie here.

His job is to help get a better understanding of the formation that spans the ten counties.

“The demand for minerals like copper, nickel, platinum, things like that are only going to go up with technology, renewable energy,” Clark said. “As long as those demands keep increasing we need to find more sources of these materials.”

Clark said groups have tried to determine the age before but have failed. He hopes technology advancement and fresh eyes will change that.

Rock samples were taken from near Elkader in the’60s during a search for iron.

“It involves trying to identify minerals that have pulled in certain elements and uranium is one of those elements,” he said. “Uranium naturally decays at a constant rate over time. We can identify how much uranium is there and how uranium was there when it first became a rock.”

The rock sample from Elkader came for a search of iron decades ago that didn’t play out. He said, luckily for them, the samples were handed off to them.

But, he said an x-ray survey done by the U.S. Geological Survey shows more promising spots lay near Manchester and Vinton.

“We’re fairly confident that it is that is something definitely worth taking a look at,” Clark said. “We can’t obviously say what type of minerals there or their grade or their concentration or their economic value. Based on what it is that we’re looking at, we do feel it it is very similar.”

The best way for them to know for sure, he said, is a new drill site that’ll allow geologists to go deeper, ideally in Manchester or Vinton. He said the drill site would only need to be a little over a foot wide.

In order for them to drill and get more samples for geologists like Clark to study, the program needs funding. Clark said it would $500,000 to drill a new core.

However, if their hunch is correct, Clark said it could mean a treasure trove of new jobs and resources.

It would then be up to an interested mineral company to come in and do the drilling to harvest the minerals in future decades. Much of the land, however, in Iowa, compared to Minnesota, is privately owned.

The study of the rocks by Clark is also being assisted with a professor from the university and an undergraduate student.

Jalyn Souchek

Jalyn Souchek

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