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S E C T I O N Mineral Resources
Objectives How are minerals used? What are the three types of mines? How are ores processed to obtain metals?
Minerals are the source of metals, gemstones, and other materials used to make many products.
Usually, a gemstone is a hard, colorful mineral that has a brilliant or glassy luster. People value gemstones for their color, luster, durability, and rarity.
A cut and polished gemstone is called a gem. Gems are used mainly for jewelry. They are also used for mechanical parts and as abrasives.
Some minerals are the sources of metals such as aluminum, iron, copper, and silver.
Metals are useful because they can be stretched into wire, flattened into sheets, and hammered or molded without breaking.
Metal tools and machinery, the metal filament in a light bulb, and the steel girders used to frame buildings all began as minerals.
There are many other useful minerals besides gemstones and metals. People use materials from minerals in foods, medicines, fertilizers, and building materials.
A rock that contains a metal or economically useful mineral is called an ore. A metal usually occurs as a mineral that is a compound of that metal and other elements.
A prospector is anyone who searches, or prospects, for an ore deposit. Geologists prospect for ores by looking for certain features on Earths surface.
In one technique, they set off explosions below ground to create shock waves. The echoes of these shock waves are used to map the location, size, and shape of an ore deposit.
Maps of ore deposits help miners decide how to mine, or remove, the ore from the ground.
There are three types of mines: strip mines, open-pit mines, and shaft mines.
In strip mining, earthmoving equipment scrapes away soil to expose the ore.
Miners dig open-pit mines to remove ore deposits that start near the surface but extend deep underground
For ore deposits that occur in veins, miners dig shaft mines, which often have a network of tunnels that extend deep into the ground.
Mining for metals and other minerals can harm the environment. Strip mining and open-pit mining leave scars on the land. Waste materials from mining can pollute rivers and lakes.
Ores must be processed before the metals they contain can be used. After miners remove ore from a mine, smelting is necessary to remove the metal from the ore.
In the process of smelting, an ore is melted to separate the useful metal from other elements the ore contains.
In general, smelting involves mixing an ore with other substances and then heating the mixture to a very high temperature.
The heat melts the metal in the ore and also causes the metal to separate from the oxygen with which it is combined. Metalworkers can then pour off the molten metal.
After smelting, additional processing is needed to remove impurities.
Two or more metals may be mixed together to form an alloy. For example, steel is an alloy of iron that is harder than pure iron.
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