Sand-and-gravel (aggregate) resources are a critical component of the Nation's infrastructure, yet aggregate-mining technologies lag far behind those of metalliferous mining and other sectors. Deposit-evaluation and site-characterization methodologies are antiquated, and few serious studies of the potential applications of spatial-data analysis and geostatistics have been published. However, because of commodity usage and the necessary proximity of a mine to end use, aggregate-resource exploration and evaluation differ fundamentally from comparable activities for metalliferous ores. Acceptable practices, therefore, can reflect this cruder scale. The increasing use of computer technologies is colliding with the need for sand-and-gravel mines to modernize and improve their overall efficiency of exploration, mine planning, scheduling, automation, and other operations. The emergence of megaquarries in the 21st century will also be a contributing factor.
Preliminary research into the practical applications of exploratory-data analysis (EDA) have been promising. For example, EDA was used to develop a linear-regression equation to forecast freeze-thaw durability from absorption values for Lower Paleozoic carbonate rocks mined for crushed aggregate from quarries in Oklahoma. Applications of EDA within a spatial context, a method of spatial-data analysis, have also been promising, as with the investigation of undeveloped sand-and-gravel resources in the sedimentary deposits of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Utah.
Formal geostatistical investigations of sand-and-gravel deposits are quite rare, and the primary focus of those studies that have been completed is on the spatial characterization of deposit thickness and its subsequent effect on ore reserves. A thorough investigation of a gravel deposit in an active aggregate-mining area in central Essex, U.K., emphasized the problems inherent in the geostatistical characterization of particle-size-analysis data. Beyond such factors as common drilling methods jeopardizing the accuracy of the size-distribution curve, the application of formal geostatistical principles has other limitations. Many of the variables used in evaluating gravel deposits, including such sedimentologic parameters as sorting and such United Soil Classification System parameters as gradation coefficient, are nonadditive. Also, uniform sampling methods, such as drilling, are relatively uncommon, and sampling is generally accomplished by a combination of boreholes, water-well logs, test pits, trenches, stratigraphic columns from exposures, and, possibly, some geophysical cross sections. When evaluated in consideration of the fact that uniform mining blocks are also uncommon in practice, subsequent complexities in establishment of the volume/variance relation are inevitable.
Several approaches exist to confront the limitations of geostatistical methods in evaluating sand-and-gravel deposits. Initially, we must acknowledge the practical requirements of the aggregate industry, as well as the limitations of the data collected by that industry, as a function of what the industry requires at the practical level, and consider that broader acceptance of formal geostatistics may require modifications of typical exploration and sampling protocols.
Future investigations should utilize data from the full spectrum of sand-and-gravel deposits (flood plain, glacial, catastrophic flood, and marine), integrate such other disci plines as sedimentology and geophysics into the research, develop commodity-specific approaches to nonadditive variables, and include the results of comparative drilling.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Chapter J: Issues and challenges in the application of geostatistics and spatial-data analysis to the characterization of sand-and-gravel resources