News from the Indiana Geological and Water Survey
January 2022

2021 by the numbers

The Indiana Geological and Water Survey is a research institute, but it's also a public service institute. Education, through the collection of geologic specimens and data and the dissemination of scientific information, is a central part of our mission. Here's a snapshot of how we carried out that mission over the past year.

Research spotlight

If you’ve ever driven U.S. 41 between Rockville and Evansville, you’ve passed more than a dozen active or historic coal mine sites. Coal has been mined in 19 Indiana counties in the Illinois Basin since the early 1800s, and as of 2019, Indiana was still the eighth-largest producer of coal among all states.

Nearly 200 years of coal mining also has yielded waste and byproducts in the form of slurry ponds (fine refuse), gob piles (coarse refuse), ash piles, and acid mine drainage at abandoned mine sites which dot western Indiana. It is in that material, however, where researchers have been finding elevated concentrations of another important resource: rare earth elements (REEs).

REEs are metals necessary to make dozens of products we use every day, such as color TVs, headphones, computer hard drives, cellphones, GPS units, rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs, satellites, and aircraft engines. They’re also essential to produce green technologies such as electric vehicles and wind power; and have applications in the medical field and in military technologies.

These elements aren’t actually rare—they occur in magmatic rocks as well as in clays and sedimentary rocks—but they are rarely found in large concentrations and are difficult to extract at an economically feasible scale. Historically, China has been the leading producer of REEs, controlling more than 92 percent of the market in 2010 and 58 percent in 2020. Several other countries, including the United States, have been stepping up their REE research and production in the past decade so as not to depend so heavily on imports.

The Indiana Geological and Water Survey is working on two federally funded projects related to rare earth elements: Earth MRI (Earth Minerals Resources Initiative) and CORE-CM (Carbon Ore, Rare Earth and Critical Minerals).

The U.S. Geological Survey launched Earth MRI in 2019 to gather data about the potential for rare earth minerals nationwide. Since 2020, IGWS researcher Pat McLaughlin has been leading a geochemical survey of the Appalachian and Illinois basins focusing on REEs in Devonian black shales. The IGWS also has been working with geological surveys in Illinois, West Virginia, Maryland, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky to collect and analyze samples from Pennsylvanian-age paleosols for REE content. In addition, the IGWS is collecting samples to study Ordovician-age phosphates for REE, collaborating with several other Midwestern states.

“Because Indiana geology is dominated by sedimentary rocks, our priorities are sedimentary rocks and the resources they host,” explained IGWS researcher Maria Mastalerz. “It could be rare earth elements; it could be uranium.” All the data collected from the multi-state consortiums will be combined into regional USGS reports to show what resources are available in each basin.

While Earth MRI is looking at potential sources of REE that are still underground, CORE-CM is looking at potential sources that have already been mined.

CORE-CM is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. In April 2021, a research team from the Illinois Basin of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee was awarded nearly $1.5 million to study evidence and potential for coal and coal waste to contain REEs. At the IGWS, researchers Mastalerz, Phil Ames, Agnieszka Drobniak, LaBraun Hampton, and McLaughlin have been mapping the locations of mine waste sites in Indiana and collecting data on how much REEs are contained in them.

Prior to the CORE-CM project, Mastalerz, Drobniak, Ames, McLaughlin, and a colleague from Kentucky published a paper in 2020 evaluating concentrations of REEs and yttrium (together known as REY) in Pennsylvanian coals and shales in the Illinois Basin. They found the highest concentrations of REY in samples of Staunton and Brazil Formation coals from mines in Dubois and Daviess counties. More sampling, though, still needs to be done.

In addition, geochemical analysis showed that the coal waste from coal preparation plants and coal-fired power plants had higher levels of “enrichment” in REEs than raw, unprocessed coal. That means that gob piles at coal preparation plants (more than 70 of them in the state) and ash pits could be “huge resources” for REEs, Mastalerz said. But, again, more samples need to be collected and analysis done. The project team knows where all the coal prep plants are and is evaluating the probable volume of material that could be targeted as the source of REEs, Mastalerz said.

IGWS research scientist Tracy Branam, who’s studied acid mine drainage and abandoned mine sites for more than 30 years, has been working with Mastalerz and Drobniak to gather water and sediment samples near mined areas so that those can be analyzed for REE content as well. Branam documented REEs in acid mine drainage back in 2011 when he was collecting data for a different project, but no one seemed interested in REE data until now, he said.

One of the major hurdles right now is that technology does not exist to separate REY from coal waste and coal ash in an economically viable way, but that is a component of the DOE-backed CORE-CM project. Mastalerz is confident that major progress will come “within the next several years.”

“Coal, coal waste, coal ash—this is so important for Indiana, because we have so much of all of these materials that are such an unexplored REE resource, yet it could make a difference for our state,” she said. “So, I think the more people get involved in this subject, the better. This line of research definitely deserves more funding.”

To learn more about REEs, read this excellent primer on the subject in the Indiana Journal of Earth Sciences, Vol. 4.

IGWS researcher Tracy Branam collects a water sample from an acid mine seep in Pike State Forest on Dec. 3. An IGWS team is evaluating acid mine drainage sites for evidence of rare earth elements--minerals which are necessary to produce electronics, medical and defense technologies, electric vehicles, and many other items. | Agnieszka Drobniak, IGWS

Get your calendar now!

The 2022 IGWS calendar is now available—in poster-sized, printed form from our bookstore, or for free download from the Indiana Journal of Earth Sciences, Vol. 4.

The theme of this calendar is scientific illustrations, specifically those created by IGWS employees Bob Judah and Bill Stalions. For a total of nearly 50 years, these two artists found a professional home in our offices and served an important purpose: to help translate research concepts into a visual medium so that they could be better understood, even by readers with no science background.

If you have not received a calendar delivery in the past and would like a print copy, a limited supply is available for pickup at the IGWS office. As an Early Bird Special, you can get a calendar for 99 cents (plus $7.50 shipping if needed) through Jan. 31; email igwsinfo@indiana.edu to make a shipping request.

The 2022 calendar creation team included Sara Clifford, Barb Hill, Jenna Lanman, Matt Johnson, Will Knauth, and Polly Sturgeon.

The 2022 IGWS calendar features the artwork of retired artist-draftsmen Bob Judah and Bill Stalions, and shares a little of the history behind their employment. | Sara Clifford, IGWS

Field notes

There are already more than 51 miles of rock and sediment samples in the IGWS’s core library, dating back to 1948. By the end of 2021, IGWS research scientists were on track add nearly a mile—more than 4,300 feet—to that collection.

Core samples are pulled from the ground using rotary drilling equipment or by a direct push method such as a Geoprobe (pictured at right). Henry Loope, Garrett Marietta, and Ginger Davis used the Geoprobe to collect several cores in Daviess County this fall to help describe and determine the glacial limit in southern Indiana for a project in the STATEMAP program.

The IGWS has been participating in STATEMAP, funded by the United States Geological Survey, for nearly 30 years. The STATEMAP effort is part of the National Cooperative Mapping Program—a joint effort between the USGS and state surveys—created by the 1992 Geologic Map Act. Since August, four teams of IGWS researchers and information services staff have been working on the Bedford, Washington-Jasper, Vincennes, and Indianapolis quads to gather data on bedrock geology as well as ice-marginal sediments, then transfer that information to maps and databases.

Information learned from sampling and analyzing rock and sediment provides insight into the location and functioning of aquifers and other groundwater resources; the type and extent of mineral deposits and other natural resources important to the local economy, like limestone and gypsum; hazards such as sinkholes, fault lines, flood risks and landslides; or even possible locations appropriate for carbon sequestration. To learn more about how cores and other data are used to make maps and how they point to resources, scroll through this StoryMap featuring data from Bartholomew County.

STATEMAP data are being used by people making decisions about land use in several Indiana counties. A project engineer wrote in 2019 about using IGWS maps to study potential impacts to water supplies and to align sanitary sewers in Bartholomew County. A consultant for a Superfund cleanup site in Elkhart wrote last fall about using IGWS maps and databases to evaluate groundwater flow and transport models so that he could design effective environmental protections. An employee of the dimension stone industry reported using Monroe and Lawrence county IGWS maps for exploration of resources.

The IGWS applied for a new round of STATEMAP funding last month, seeking to continue mapping the bedrock geology and Quaternary geology of three southern Indiana quadrangles at 1:100,000 scale, to produce three map databases or updates, and to formalize a Late Pleistocene stratigraphy for northern Indiana. Since 1993, the IGWS has received nearly $4.7 million in federal funding to develop more than 200 bedrock and surficial geologic maps for STATEMAP at scales ranging from 1:24,000 to 1:200,000. Additional data produced from the STATEMAP program includes reports, databases, guidebooks, and websites, as well as presentations geologists make to other scientists and to the public.

The latest maps—from the western South Bend and northern Bedford quadrangles—can be seen and downloaded for free from the IGWS’s open-access scientific journal, the Indiana Journal of Earth Sciences, Vol. 3.

The IGWS’s extensive core library is temporarily housed at the Cardinal Metal Finishing warehouse (known to staff as “Otis”) in Bloomington. Anyone who’s interested in Indiana geology can visit it during regular business hours (M-F, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) or by appointment (email Archivist and Collections Manager Jenna Lanman at lanmanj@indiana.edu.)

Henry Loope, Garrett Marietta, and Ginger Davis (not pictured) collect cores in Daviess County with the Geoprobe in late October. They worked with willing landowners to collect ancient lake, dune, glacial till and fluvial deposits. These samples will be used to interpret the sequence of events that unfolded during the Illinoian glaciation and see if evidence exists from previous glaciations. Once the core is collected, geologists fill the hole in the ground with a bentonite plug to ensure groundwater is protected from any surface runoff. | Ginger Davis, IGWS

Staff notes


Cartographer Matt Johnson has spent his career showing people the way to go, but as a college student 20-some years ago, he, too, wandered a bit.

He started as a computer science major, but dropped that for recreation management because he didn’t want to sit at a computer his whole life. One required course was geography, and there, Johnson found “the best thing I could possibly do”—because he didn’t have to study; the subject came easily to him. But he had no idea what to do with an interest in geography.

A professor at Appalachian State University, Neal Lineback, needed someone to create maps for news articles he was writing. So, Johnson was trained as a cartographer. That led to paid internships with Maps.com in California, then eight years creating trail maps for National Geographic Trails in Colorado.

In 2011, Johnson landed at the Indiana Geological and Water Survey. Since then, he’s created dozens of maps with data gathered from IGWS geologists and other sources. In 2020, he won the Excellence in Cartography award from the IMIA (International Map Industry Association) and Esri ICA (International Cartographic Association) for a Quaternary geography map of the Elkhart area. Last month, his topographic trail maps were included in Esri’s 2021 Map Book, which shows “how the application of GIS is creating positive outcomes in organizations and across society.”

The trail maps, published in 2019 and 2020, cover the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests, Brown County State Park/Yellowwood State Forest/Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Starve Hollow State Recreation Area/Jackson-Washington State Forest, and Clark and Jackson-Washington state forests. They are sold as a five-map bundle or individually through the IGWS bookstore.

Johnson discussed how he made them during an IGWS Dig Deeper webinar on Dec. 16 (archived here). The project was partially funded by the IU Center for Rural Engagement, which hosted a celebration for Johnson on Dec. 14.

An avid hiker, Johnson knew the limitations of existing trail maps. Trails may have been classified on a scale from “easy” to “rugged,” but those maps did not show elevations, and sometimes did not show accurate distances or late-added offshoots. They were useful, though, to show the location of major features like campgrounds, some roads, and trailheads. Other data for the new maps was pulled from aerial photos, the U.S. Geological Survey, county maps, OpenStreetMap, and from hikers.

“One of the big things I found out through the pandemic was how willing people are to help out,” Johnson said. “I’d post a photo on Facebook of an area I didn’t know and say, ‘Has anyone hiked this?’ and people would comment and say, ‘Oh yeah, I did, and here’s what I know,’ or, ‘Nope, but I’ll go hike that tomorrow and let you know.’

“I told (one volunteer), ‘Can I have your job, that you can just go hiking on a whim?’ So, that was nice to be able to have citizens who want to use the map actually help create the map.”

The IGWS gave 10 free maps to businesses or visitors’ centers near the trails and allowed those places to sell them at the $15 retail price, so businesses wouldn’t have to take a gamble during COVID times on something they weren’t sure would sell. Many outlets quickly sold out, then came back to buy more copies, as the pandemic had prompted people to get out in the woods.

Johnson is still getting questions about when the next trail map is coming. He has a new job now—as director of information services for the IGWS—which takes time away from cartography. But the project has “definitely not fallen to the wayside,” he said.

He remembers being the navigator on family road trips, planning routes through blocks of green on the map and anticipating what they were going to find along the way. When people ask what he does as a cartographer since “everything’s already been mapped,” he tells them, no, everything hasn’t.

“Trails change. Things get closed … and they have to be removed from maps, so, things change all the time. And a lot of times, you still need a paper map, because you won’t always have cell service, batteries die, a lot of different things could go wrong. Geology-related, though, we’re still mapping areas that have never really been mapped in the state. It could be minerals, it could be water resources, certain bedrock horizons that are becoming important because of changing needs in the state.

“So, mapping is never going away. There may just be newer ways of doing it faster.”


• IGWS Web Developer Pratima Soni resigned to take a job closer to home with IU’s University Information Technology Services (UITS) in Indianapolis. Her last day at the IGWS was Dec. 3.

• IGWS research scientist Pat McLaughlin resigned at the end of December to take a job with the Illinois State Geological Survey. He will continue to work with IGWS researchers on rare earth elements projects.


• The IGWS is or soon will be hiring for five open jobs in the information services division. Keep checking igws.indiana.edu/jobs for postings and application deadlines or search at jobs.iu.edu.

Outreach activities

• IGWS research scientist Ginger Davis presented at the 2021 Water Institute and the Indiana Section of American Water Works Association workshops in French Lick in December, providing continuing education to well drillers, pump installers, and water operators.

• IGWS research scientist Maria Mastalerz and Indiana Limestone Institute Director Todd Schnatzmeyer presented at the Indiana Society of Mining and Reclamation conference in Evansville in December. Their talks were titled “Coal and Coal-Related Materials as Potential Sources of Rare Earth Elements (REE) in Indiana,” and “Indiana Limestone: From Salem Deposit to the Built Environment,” respectively. Research scientist Tracy Branam also displayed a poster on springs research in south-central Indiana and Director Todd Thompson outlined the IGWS STATEMAP program.

• Mastalerz, as author or co-author, published four papers in domestic and international journals in December and January: “SEM petrography of dispersed organic matter in black shales: A review” in Earth-Science Reviews; "Petrology of the Fire Clay Coal, Perry County, Kentucky,” and “Petrology of the Pittsburgh coalbed in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio” in the International Journal of Coal Geology; and “Accessibility of pores to methane in New Albany Shale samples of varying maturity determined using SANS and USANS” in Energies.

IGWS research scientist Maria Mastalerz speaks to mining industry representatives about the potential for coal byproducts to contain rare earth elements. | Todd Thompson, IGWS

Contact us

The Indiana Geological and Water Survey, a longstanding institute of Indiana University, conducts research; surveys the state; collects and preserves geologic specimens and data; and disseminates information to contribute to the mitigation of geologic hazards and the wise stewardship of the energy, mineral, and water resources of Indiana.

• To join the E-Geo News mailing list, please click here.

• To ask a question of IGWS staff or suggest an E-Geo News topic, email scliffo@iu.edu.