Mapping mineral deposits and mining around the globe

Jonathan Clayton locates the major deposits of mineral wealth around the world and signposts future growth in the global mining sector

1. Tanzania

Now the fourth largest gold producer in Africa, with production currently standing at 40 tonnes a year, Tanzania is also rich in other minerals. These are beginning to attract increasing investor interest and the sector is poised for rapid expansion. As well as gold, iron ore, nickel, copper, cobalt, silver, diamond, tanzanite, ruby, garnet, limestone, soda ash, gypsum, salt, phosphate, coal and uranium are all readily available. Several Chinese companies are reportedly ready to move into the sector. Mining companies last year paid more than $150 million in taxes – representing 2.8 per cent of the East-African country’s gross domestic product (GDP) – and created over 14,000 jobs in 2010, according to the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy.

Acacia Mining's Buzwagi gold mine in Tanzania
Acacia Mining’s Buzwagi gold mine in Tanzania

2. Mozambique

Four of the five largest natural gas discoveries in the world last year were in Mozambique. Along with excitement over the world’s largest untapped coal deposits, in the province of Tete, the country is tipped to become an economic powerhouse. While both thermal and coking coal have been found in Mozambique, it is metallurgical coal that holds the biggest allure for investors, given the high prices on the back of limited global supply. There is growing activity in heavy mineral sands – a class of ore deposit which is an important source of zirconium, titanium, thorium, tungsten, rare earth elements, the industrial minerals diamond, sapphire, garnet, and occasionally precious metals or gemstones. Gold mining is also on the increase.

Four of the five largest natural gas discoveries in the world last year were in Mozambique

3. Arctic

Workers at the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Workers at the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

The Arctic climate is changing more rapidly than anywhere else on Earth, and the reduction in sea ice could increase access to mineral wealth and open up potential new ice-free shipping routes. The area, which includes parts of the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland, has already witnessed a surge in new investments. There are currently 25 mines in operation in the Russian Arctic, while 36.8 per cent of Alaska’s 2010 foreign export earnings came from exports of zinc, lead, gold and copper. Greenland is also home to a number of mines. Mining accounts for half the income of Canada’s North West Territories, while the Mary River Iron Ore Project on Baffin Island in Nunavut is due to begin development in 2013.

4. Mongolia

With growth at around 17 per cent, Mongolia is the second fastest growing economy in the world. It sits on vast quantities of untapped mineral wealth and foreign investment in a number of massive mining projects is expected to transform its tiny economy in the coming years. Most of the minerals are located in the Gobi Desert, where until now a harsh landscape of barren plains, freezing winters and scorching summers has kept human habitation to a small number of nomadic camel breeders eking out a solitary existence. However, recent discoveries of copper, gold and coal means the era of isolation is rapidly coming to an end. The Oyu Tolgoi has the potential to become one of the world’s top-three copper-producing mines.

5. Sierra Leone

Mining in Sierra Leone is slowly recovering from the civil war, which devastated the country in the 1990s, and now accounts for around 5 per cent of the country’s GDP. Minerals, mainly diamonds, account for some 80 per cent of total export revenue. But iron ore is rapidly increasing in importance.

6. Liberia

Main mineral products in Liberia are gold and diamonds, although iron ore has been a major product. As well as offshore oil, the country possesses a wide variety of minerals, including tin, columbite-tantalite, phosphates, zinc, copper, lead, rare earth minerals, nickel, molybdenum, beach sand, bauxite, kyanite, chromite, uranium and silica sands.

7. Democratic Republic of Congo

Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been dogged by allegations of corruption, but the country is so mineral-rich that it still attracts much interest. DRC is estimated to have $54 trillion-worth of untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including cobalt, diamonds, gold and copper.

8. Brazil

With only 30 per cent of the territory geologically mapped, Brazil has proven reserves of several important commodities, such as bauxite, Kaolin, iron ore, niobium and nickel, and is a major producer of key commodities, such as gold, coal and phosphates. But iron ore is the most important of Brazil’s mineral exports.

9. Russia

Rich in mineral deposits from oil and gas to gold, in 2011 the estimated production of Russia’s mining and metallurgical industries was worth $130 billion. The country is the world’s largest producer of chromium, nickel and palladium, has the largest proven reserves of iron ore, and is the second largest producer of aluminum, platinum and zirconium.

10. Australia

The world’s largest exporter of coal and fourth largest coal producer behind China, the United States and India, Australia also has large quantities of other minerals, including iron ore, nickel, aluminium, gold and diamonds. South Australia’s Olympic Dam, a copper, silver and uranium mine, is believed to have the world’s largest uranium resource.

BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam operation in South Australia
BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam operation in South Australia

11. Afghanistan

Its resources could make Afghanistan one of the richest mining regions in the world, with an estimated $3 trillion in untapped mineral deposits. To date, more than 1,400 mineral finds have been recorded, including gold, copper, lithium, uranium, iron ore, cobalt, natural gas and oil. Gemstones include emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet and ruby. 

12. China

Gold mining in the People’s Republic of China recently saw the country emerge as the world’s largest producer. China is also the biggest consumer of coal in the world and the largest user of coal-derived electricity. It is also the largest rare earth producer, and has reserves of iron ore, mercury, tungsten, lead, zinc and uranium.