The increased use of coal in power generation and in other more sophisticated uses requires knowledge of the quality of coal to be used. Microscopic study of the different materials that make up coal is proving important. Different materials characterize different environments of origin and different combustion responses. Information about chemical elements, mineral macerals (organic components), and their interrelationships will allow for more environmentally acceptable and economically efficient use of coal.
Hot rock, abundant water in a sealed reservoir, and access to a market for the electricity produced must all coexist for a geothermal field to be exploitable. We may have failed to discover geothermal reservoirs with little surface manifestation. The development of remote sensing methods of detection, especially infrared survey from the air, geochemical methods, and geophysics, together make up a challenging field.
Activities that are too large to be operated by a single agency, university, or national laboratory can be considered facilities, and there are several examples of these in resource research. Access to advanced supercomputing capabilities is needed for testing models of processes in the shallow crust. Deep seismic studies using the consortia approaches that have been so successful in the past decade have a continuing role, and, where continental scientific drilling is perceived as an essential part of research, there is an established mechanism for bringing it into play under the existing interagency agreement. Ships of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory Systems's (UNOLS) fleet and the Ocean Drilling Program are involved in experiments relevant to resource research, for example, under the RIDGE program. Satellite data from SPOT and Landsat are important in mineral research, and it is important that these be available to researchers on a continuing basis and at reasonable cost. Instruments with the capabilities of the High-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (HIRIS) and the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), proposed for as instruments for National Aeronatics Space Administration's (NASA) Earth Observing System, would be marvelous for resource research, as would a low-orbit magnetometer mission, such as ARISTOTELES. Gravity and magnetometry data obtained from aircraft for poorly known continental areas could also be important, but plans for development are at a very early stage.
Most of the laboratory equipment that is needed for research in resources is similar to that used in the kinds of laboratory investigation identified in Chapters 2, 3, and 5. Advanced chemical analytical equipment and facilities for isotopic analysis, including mass spectroscopy of organic materials, has become a general need. New methods with high spatial resolution and high-precision analytical capability such as laser-ablated inductively coupled plasma-source mass spectrometry seem likely to be capable of yielding large amounts of useful information. Bacterial research may find a focus in resource and environmental research at this time. The largest field for advanced equipment development is in exploration for petroleum and minerals. Expenditures on mineral and petroleum exploration in the United States annually run at more than $1 billion, much of which is spent on the acquisition and processing of reflection seismic data. Three-dimensional seismic surveys are expected to become much more widely used in the coming decade, and processing and archiving the large quantities of data generated by this practice will present a challenge. The availability of three-dimensional seismic data will contribute greatly to our understanding of the shallow crust and will call for complementary advanced well logging and well-to-well measurements.
Mineral explorationists use advanced geophysical research techniques, including audiomagnetotelluric methods, and remote sensing from space and aircraft by methods such as side-looking radar and high-wavelength-resolution infrared spectroscopy are beginning to be used. Geochemical prospecting is emphasizing the use of pathfinder elements as complementary to direct search for metals, and soil gas exploration is developing. All these instrumental developments have a part to play in the integrated effort to understand the properties and processes of the shallow crust, which is the concept unifying resource research at this time.