In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, and State of Alaska cooperated on an investigation of the mineral potential of a southern part of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, Howard Pass quadrangle, to provide background information for future land-use decisions. The investigation incorporated an airborne electromagnetic (EM) survey covering 1,500 mi2 (~3,900 km2), including flight lines directly over the Drenchwater Creek sediment-hosted Zn-Pb-Ag occurrence, the largest known base-metal occurrence in the survey area. Samples from the mineralized outcrop and rubblecrop contain metal concentrations that can exceed 11 percent Zn+Pb, with appreciable amounts of Ag. Soil samples with anomalous Pb concentrations are distributed near the sulfide-bearing outcrops and along a >2.5 km zone comprising mudstone, shale, and volcanic rocks of the Kuna Formation.
No drilling has taken place at the Drenchwater occurrence, so alternative data sources (for example, geophysics) are especially important in assessing possible indicators of mineralization. Data from the 2005 electromagnetic survey define the geophysical character of the rocks at Drenchwater and, in combination with geological and surface-geochemical data, can aid in assessing the possible shallow (up to about 50 m), subsurface lateral extent of base-metal sulfide accumulations at Drenchwater. A distinct >3-km-long electromagnetic conductive zone (observed in apparent resistivity maps) coincides with, and extends further westward than, mineralized shale outcrops and soils anomalously high in Pb concentrations within the Kuna Formation; this conductive zone may indicate sulfide-rich rock. Models of electrical resistivity with depth, generated from inversion of electromagnetic data, which provide alongflight-line conductivity-depth profiles to between 25 and 50 m below ground surface, show that the shallow subsurface conductive zone occurs in areas of known mineralized outcrops and thins to the east. Broader, more conductive rock along the western ~1 km of the geophysical anomaly does not reach ground surface. These data suggest that the Drenchwater deposit is more extensive than previously thought. The application of inversion modeling also was applied to another smaller geochemical anomaly in the Twistem Creek area. The results are inconclusive, but they suggest that there may be a local conductive zone, possibly due to sulfides.