In the Trenches - April 2019

Appreciating and Teaching Economic Geology

Volume 9, Number 2

In This Issue

Online Extra Articles

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This site provides web links that supplement the print articles as well as news and web resources. Members can follow the "Read more" links below to access full versions of the articles online. To receive the full edition of In the Trenches, join NAGT

Appreciating and Teaching Economic Geology

Antonio Arribas, Akita University, Akita, Japan

What would happen if all geoscientists stopped practicing their science? Would the average person's life change?" This rhetorical question was asked by Dorfler and Friedrich in a brief article on the "Future of Geoscience" in the January 2019 issue of GSA Today. As expected, the authors identify immediate negative impacts to society on matters such as prevention of natural hazards, availability of clean drinking water, or awareness and understanding of lead contamination. However, it is telling that, as the first casualty of the disappearance of geoscientists, they chose the discovery of new resources such as "the rare earth minerals that power our smart phones." Indeed, without economic geologists (i.e., the scientists and professionals dedicated to the study of and the exploration for mineral resources), modern society could not exist. Read more...

Pebble, Alaska: Teaching Economic Geology and Its Broader Context Through a Case Study of a Controversial Mining Project

Elizabeth Holley, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO

Economic geology is a fundamentally interdisciplinary field. The study of ore deposits involves not only the characterization of ore and its processes of formation, but also related fields such as geochemistry, hydrology, and environmental geology. In addition, economic geologists engage with engineers and other technical professionals, as well as communities, because ore deposits are mined in increasingly complex technical, environmental, and social contexts. This article presents a case study-based teaching unit used to deliver content in economic geology, environmental geochemistry, hydrology, engineering geology, and public policy to third- and fourth-year undergraduates in geology and mining engineering at Colorado School of Mines. The unit uses the Pebble mineral deposit in Alaska as the focal point to engage students with data that help scientists, engineers, and policymakers decide whether and how an ore deposit should be mined. Read more...

Teaching about Mineral Consumption and the Environmental Considerations that Accompany

Adam C. Simon and Stephen E. Kesler, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

The topic of mineral resources is almost always polarizing. High school and college students bring their own ideas about "mining" to the classroom and rarely think about how their own lives are made possible by mineral resources. Students are even less aware of the orders of magnitude difference between their level of resource consumption compared with the consumption of the vast majority of citizens around the world. Though evaluation of mineral resources is almost always done on a global scale, it is important that students appreciate their own levels of use while gaining insight into the resources necessary to lift up the developing world and how resource consumption will increase with an increasing global population. Read more...
  • The United States Geological Survey (USGS) tracks the production and consumption of all mineral resources and compiles these data in annual summaries available for free from their Mineral Information home page at:

Michigan Sustainability Cases: An Open-Access Resource for Infusing Sustainability into Geoscience Curricula

Meghan Wagner and Rebecca Hardin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Case studies have a long track record of producing positive learning outcomes in fields such as business, law, and medicine; however, they have yet to find widespread use in environmental science fields. That may change as a handful of organizations and initiatives, recognizing their value for environment and sustainability education, actively champion their adoption (Wei et al., 2018). One of these, Michigan Sustainability Cases (MSC), is an initiative housed in the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) at the University of Michigan, where some of our school's faculty have taught with cases for more than 30 years. For a professional school such as SEAS, case-based education has considerable relevance because students come to learn both practical skills and how to confidently engage with complex sustainability problems. Our initiative launched in 2016 with funding from the university's Transforming Learning for a Third Century Initiative and a mandate to make teaching and learning more inclusive and widely relevant across classrooms, fields, and sectors of society where rapid transitions to sustainable technologies and practices are required. Read more...

ONLINE EXTRA: A little history: The study of mineral deposits and the advent of modern geology

Antonio Arribas, Akita University

Some time ago I was telling a colleague at a university geology department in Europe about the strong connection between mining/the study of mineral deposits and the development of geology. I was disappointed because either he didn't believe me, or didn't want to believe that his beloved, clean and environmentally sensitive science owed so much to the extraction of the Earth's raw materials. Times have changed, people evolved, and society has learned to regard mining from a very different, more informed and sensitive perspective. However, the connection between the study of mineral deposits and modern geology is clear. Read more...

ONLINE EXTRA: Using Google Earth to Introduce Plate Tectonics

Adam Bennion

An understanding of plate tectonics is critical as a foundation for students as they begin to encounter and experience geologic phenomena. The way students first experience plate tectonics will have an impact on how well they will be able to recall the material and make connections to future material (National Research Council, 2000).

Teachers use various approaches to introduce plate tectonics to students including using analogies (e.g., Nottis, 1999), model-based teaching (Gobert & Buckley, 2000), or more traditional lecture type approaches. The Framework underpinning the Next Generation Science Standards () recommends using computer simulations as models to understand and investigate aspects of systems, especially those too large or small to be visible (National Research Council, 2012). Google Earth provides a platform that can help students of all ages to model and investigate the results and mechanisms behind plate tectonics. Read more...

ONLINE EXTRA: An Example of Case Pedagogy: Assessing the Sustainability of - Palm Oil Production

Erich Eberhard, Elizabeth Oliphant, Adam C. Simon, and Meghan Wagner, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Let's start with the good news: There is no right or wrong way to use a case study. The method is intrinsically flexible, both in form and application. And the bad news? There really is no bad news, but successfully implementing a case relies on careful preparation before setting foot in the classroom—much like any other pedagogy. In a companion article (this issue), we describe the Michigan Sustainability Cases (MSC) initiative and the inroads case studies are making into environment and sustainability education. Here we introduce the Gala platform in more detail and provide one example of how a web-based sustainability case study has been used in an undergraduate geology and environmental science course to enhance the student learning experience. Read more...

ONLINE EXTRA: The Varied Roles of Geoscientists in Mining

Jonathan G. Price, State Geologist Emeritus, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, University of Nevada, Reno

Geologists play many essential roles in the life cycle of mining. These include technical aspects of discovery and development of ore deposits, safely and efficiently mining ore and extracting valuable minerals, and environmental protection and sustainable land use after mining. Geologists, particularly ones with good social and business skills, often also play key roles in interacting with stakeholders to obtain social and regulatory licenses to operate and with investors to raise capital to explore and mine. Read more...

ONLINE EXTRA: Smartphones, streams, natural pollution and mineral deposit exploration

Adam C. Simon and Steve Kesler, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan

The resources used to make our built environment possible come from many types of mineral deposits. I like to start the conversation about the importance of mineral deposits by showing students a three minute video that unpacks the many resources required to build a smart phone. I find students connect better to the topic of resources when they realize how many of them they use. Read more...

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