How Maps and Open Data Portals Have Streamlined Land Research for the Mineral Exploration Community in the West
In a world impacted by rising change and increased demand for mineral resources, data-driven mineral exploration is an important component of maintaining commodity supplies. While the urgency for sustainable practices has increased, the necessity and utility for mineral exploration haven't changed. The United States has a long history of mining claims staked across the West dating as far back as the mid-1800s. This legacy represents not only the historical trail of exploration and commodity demands but also a geographic representation of monetary investment.
With various companies in the mining industry exploring properties for mining potential, it can be difficult for those conducting land research to navigate the numerous associated datasets. Maps of geographic areas open to mineral entry and those showing historic mining activity and land management issues are essential for data-driven business decisions around claim staking and exploration. For organizations completing land research, finding the data can be laborious to track down and costly to convert into understandable reports or visualizations. Often, organizations must download data they are interested in from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and hire geographic information system (GIS) specialists to configure it.
According to Lucia Patterson, a geologist and GIS field specialist at the Nevada Division of Minerals (NDOM), "Publicly available data should be publicly available data. The industry just needed an organization to give the data spatial representation and host it out, for all to use."
It was this challenge, along with organizational goals at the NDOM, that inspired Patterson to simplify the process in Nevada. This initiative meant that prospectors could more effectively conduct land research and organizations could view data that would help them make decisions on lands available for mining claim staking and mineral exploration.
"Data is information, and it needs to be available and understandable regardless of whether the individual is an expert, professional, or first-time user," said Patterson. "Data is only valuable if someone knows how to use it."
Empowering Others with Open Data Sources
In recent years, web platforms have grown in offerings and user-friendly capabilities. Platforms like cloud-based Web GIS and ArcGIS Hub have made it possible for even small organizations to create ready-to-use maps for users of all skill levels to achieve a wide array of objectives. These maps, derived from numerous data sources and made available in a convenient, central location, can then be shared widely with others. The Nevada Division of Minerals, for one, used ArcGIS Hub to generate a tool to assist in land research and to provide a user-friendly open data site. Visitors can download Nevada-based data about mining claims, plans, notices, and leases, as well as oil, gas, geothermal, and mineral production and occurrences and land issues. For users without access to GIS, all data is presented in accessible, interactive web applications.
The NDOM hub presents web maps that employ pop-ups to communicate data for a user-friendly experience. Configurable pop-ups also direct users to other data sources or queries and provide parameters or instructions for outside application utilization.
NDOM also created the Claim Habitation Interactive Map Experience (C.H.I.M.E.), representing claims density and annual maintenance or assessment fees paid through time, per section. Data on historical and current notices and plans, as well as that of current active claims, is also presented in the map along with the US Geological Survey Mineral Resources Data System and the USMIN datasets within the given states.
The NDOM website also includes educational video resources on mineral collecting, claim staking, and other geologic topics. Users can also find documentation on land research processes and how to utilize the site.
Expanding Open Data Sources across the Western United States
Inspired by the success of Nevada's open data site, Patterson volunteered her time creating the C.L.A.I.M.S. hub site, expanding the reach of the mining claim, plan, and notice data from Nevada to the contiguous western United States. The open data site provides relevant data for mineral explorers to interact with, access, and download.
Like the Nevada site, BLM data for unpatented mining claims, plans, and notices is presented on an interactive map, on a per-section basis for Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. State agencies provide links to resources that they have determined are most beneficial for prospectors to access in their respective states. All state resources are listed and configured through the hub. Patterson used Python scripts to process the data from a tabular format to a spatial representation and perform field calculations for millions of records. The data is then configured in ArcGIS Pro and published using ArcGIS Online.
Like the NDOM open data site, C.L.A.I.M.S. also employs pop-ups, web applications, and widgets. Users can exploit widgets like Swipe, Add Data, and Filter, alongside applications like Compare, to differentiate vast amounts of data. These tools empower users to dig deeper into their data and leverage statistically based symbology with color ramps to visualize patterns in large datasets.
While utilized by mineral explorers all over the world, the hub has also proved to be an invaluable tool for federal and state agencies, county recorders, realtors, hobbyists, environmental consulting firms, industry supply companies, researchers, and many more. "It has been amazing to see that this application reaches more than just the mining industry," said Patterson.
Patterson hopes to continue expanding C.L.A.I.M.S. in collaboration with other states providing data to assist in the exploration of minerals in the western US. "We are in the age of big data, and we have the ability to leverage technology to put such data, quite literally, at one's fingertips and configure it in a manner in which it can be utilized by almost any individual skill level," said Patterson.