Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/46

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42
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE GEOLOGIC SURVEY OF ALASKA[1]

By ALFRED H. BROOKS

U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

A DECADE[2] ago the United States Geological Survey began its work in Alaska by sending a party of only three men to the territory, whereas in the past summer twelve parties, with an aggregate membership of fifty odd men, were there engaged in geologic surveys. Even this rapid expansion is hardly commensurate with the size of the territory and the importance of the mineral resources, the development of which the geologic investigations aim to aid. Alaska's 600,000 square miles are much spread out, stretching to a width of 2,400[3] miles and to a north and south length of 1,100 miles. Were this vast area, which is equal to two and a half times that of Texas, the cold, barren waste so often pictured it would be of small practical import as to when it should be surveyed. But Alaska has large and constantly growing mining interests, and it is the demand of these which has influenced congress to increase the appropriation for geologic surveys from $5,000 in 1895 to $80,000 in 1905.

Even the present appropriation is less than one per cent, of the annual gold production, which has increased from $1,866,645 in 1895 to $9,300,000 in 1904, and is far from having reached its maximum. Nor does the gold production tell the whole story; the value of the copper and silver annually mined now exceeds half a million dollars, and the output of the former is rapidly increasing. There is in Alaska also some coal mining, though this industry has not yet attained its rightful importance. The territory contains some very valuable bituminous coal fields. Prospective mineral wealth also lies in Alaska's tin ores, oil fields and gypsum beds, which have all been sufficiently exploited to indicate their probable commercial importance. The time will come when iron and zinc ores are mined in Alaska, and its immense granite areas will yield building stone to the Pacific coast.

Applied geology touches the activities of mankind at many places, but primarily, of course, in the vocation of mining. It is on the basis of geologic knowledge that soils must be classified, and this, in turn, together with the topography, determines the distribution of animal and vegetable life. In the Alaskan work of the geological survey,

  1. Published by permission of the Director U. S. Geological Survey.
  2. It will be shown below that members of the Geological Survey were sent to Alaska before 1895, but these were either detailed to other government bureaus, or were attached to private expeditions.
  3. This is about the distance from Savannah to Los Angeles.