Mining and exploration review north of the 60th parallel

Rock Collection – Alaska Geologic Materials Center gets a new home

figure-1A hidden gem of the mining industry will soon have the chance to shine brighter. Alaska’a Geologic Materials Center (GMC) is preparing to move from their current facility in Eagle River to a larger, more accessible facility in Anchorage.

The center, in operation since 1984, helps to advance exploration and research knowledge of Alaska’s natural resources through its library of geologic samples, baseline geologic data, maps, and reports. The samples are an important source of information for mining industry professionals, who can visit the center to view, sample, and analyze the minerals, gaining valuable insight into the state’s natural resources and potentially saving time and money on exploration endeavors.

The GMC’s move to a state-of-the-art facility in Alaska’s largest city is a necessity as it has outgrown its current warehouse. Between the lack of space and inadequate storage, GMC’s curator, Ken Papp, explains that the center was in “dire need” of a new home.

“The physical condition of our current facility is not befitting for such an important and impressive geologic sample collection. A lot of the buildings and warehouses where we currently store the samples in Eagle River were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” says Papp, a geologist specializing in geologic materials and data preservation, and database documentation.

In addition to the original 6,000-square-foot warehouse, which became full in the early ‘90s, the center uses 60 substandard storage containers with no heat or lighting to house some of the hundreds of thousands of rock samples.

“The experience of pulling samples out of a shipping container in the dead of February is not fun,” says Papp. “We have to defrost padlocks, boxes stick together – literally frozen together in some cases. It’s an unfortunate mess that will soon be resolved.”

The primary concern is the potential damage to the physical samples from a leaking shipping container or the freeze-thaw that threatens to slowly degrade the rocks each year.

The new 110,000-square-foot facility in Anchorage will allow the center to hold all the samples under a single, dry, climate-controlled roof. This large warehouse will also provide ample space for future growth as Papp expects about one third to half of the space will be used at first, depending on the size of several anticipated sample donations.

The move – which may take up to 12 weeks to complete and likely involve 150 40-foot semi-trucks – has other benefits, including improved accessibility for the mining companies that are typically located in downtown Anchorage.

Currently, the GMC is under-utilized by the mining industry considering the potential savings in exploration spending. According to Alaska’s Resource Development Council, the mining industry spent approximately $180 million in exploration of Alaska’s valuable minerals in 2013.

“The mining industry would really benefit from taking a look at the samples that we have here because we will offer a single, convenient location and access to a very organized inventory,” says Papp. “Reanalysis of existing samples using the latest techniques is extremely important. What we have here would help them better understand potential or known resources and basically not have to reinvent the wheel. If they learn something, it will likely save them money.”

Papp gives one example of a mining company saving hundreds of thousands of dollars just by utilizing the maps available at the GMC. Armed with scanned copies of the maps – which also contained tables of trace-element geochemistry results – the company was able to pinpoint the area of interest, saving valuable time and money in research and fieldwork.

In addition to the 2,400-square-foot main viewing area, three private viewing rooms will allow companies a quiet environment to examine samples. Each room has acoustic dampening material within the walls and door. The doors lock for privacy and sections of the walls are magnetized so maps can be hung up. “You can leave your stuff out and don’t have to worry about other people walking by and seeing what you’re working on,” says Papp.

Two slabbing slaws and a plugging drill allow some samples to be taken immediately and/or sent to labs for further examination, such as a geochemical analysis.

Another part of the GMC making a move is their online inventory. Currently available through Google Earth, which requires special software that must be downloaded, the inventory will be updated and uploaded to a searchable map of Alaska available in any web browser. (The inventory will still be viewable using Google Earth.)

“You will be able to draw a box anywhere in the state and it’ll list the results of any samples that we have in that particular area. You can fine-tune and print the results, save it to a spreadsheet or shapefile, or send in a request to look at those samples,” says Papp.

Papp also has his eye on a future, in-house physical library and better organizing all the center’s physical documents, including hundreds of maps and reports.

The center, which currently offers public tours upon request, will also have more prominent public displays in the new location. Papp explains that one of the GMC’s long-term goals is to improve the outreach and educational programs. The curator wants to show people that the center is “more than just a big building full of rocks” by educating individuals on the importance of the center and the mining industry and its positive benefits to the state, such as revenue and job opportunities.

The move date for the GMC, originally scheduled for August 2014, was postponed and a new timeline is still in progress, but Papp is optimistic. “We’re working very closely with project partners to try and come up with a solution that will allow us to relocate the collection and open up as soon as possible.” The facility will remain open in Eagle River until the sample archive can be relocated.

The GMC currently sees approximately 500 visitors each year. Papp anticipates that number will increase in the new, more convenient facility, ensuring this important resource is further recognized. The change in location will give the GMC a brighter sheen and let this goldmine of Alaska’s mining industry excel.

Want to see what the GMC has to offer your company? Visit www.dggs.alaska.gov.gmc. Appointments can be made to view or sample the minerals. Public tours are also available by request.

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