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IGCSE Environmental Management Revision Guide


Part 1. Structure and Process in the Lithosphere

o The structure of the Earth

o Evidence for the internal structure of the Earth
o Types of Rock
o The Rock Cycle
o Erosion, Weathering and Deposition
o Sedimentary, Igneous and Metamorphic Rock Formations
o Fossil Fuel Formation
o Mineral Formation

Part 2. Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes and Volcanoes

o Plate Tectonics
o Types of Tectonic Activity
o Constructive Boundaries and Mantle Convection Currents
o Destructive Boundaries
o Summary table of different kinds of plate boundaries
o Causes and Types of Earthquakes
o Causes and Types of Vulcanicity
o The Richter Scale
o The Volcanic Explosivity Index
o Economic Aspects of Living in Earthquake and Volcano Zones
o The impacts of earthquakes and volcanoes on people
o Strategies for managing the impacts of earthquakes and

Part 3: Harvesting the Lithosphere’s Resources

o Searching for Lithosphere Resources

o Extracting Lithosphere Resources
o Extracting Oil and Gas Resources
o Use of lithosphere resources in industry
o The location of mining areas and related industries
o A selection of minerals, their ores and uses.
o Exploitation of Mineral Reserves
o Exploitation of Oil
o The Future for Oil
o Geological Accessibility
o Extreme Climates
o Implications of global trade patterns in lithosphere resources

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o The impact of mineral exploitation on the environment and
human health
o The global economic consequences of over-exploitation and
depletion of lithosphere resources

The Lithosphere
Part 1: Structure and Processes in the Lithosphere

The Structure of the Earth

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Evidence for the internal structure of the Earth

In the 1960’s there was a project to drill down into the mantle through the
earth’s crust. This project was abandoned although now experimental drilling
has gone over 14km into continental crust this has not entered the mantle.
Therefore anything deeper than this has not been directly observed, except
that some of the rocks from the upper mantle which have risen to the surface.

The rest of the Earth’s structure comes from looking at the patterns in
earthquake shockwaves, along with predictions made from rock density and
patterns of magnetism over the whole planet.

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A thin layer, 60km Core
thick in some Very high temperature
continental crusts over 3,000OC and high
and down to 5km pressure, the inner
thick at the oceanic core is solid and
crust. probably made of iron
Made of Silicon, and nickel. The centre
Aluminuium and is 6,900km below the
Magnesium. earth’s surface.

Most (80%) of the
lithosphere is found here,
made from molten magma
at temperatures over
1,000OC. It extends down
to 2,900km deep.

Types of Rock

Sedimentary – These rocks are formed from fragments or particles, not

crystals. They are formed from the deposition of hard minerals (for example
quartz.) when the agents of erosion drop them e.g. sandstone or chalk.

Igneous – These rocks form from cooling magma underground, or lava at

the earth’s surface. They are crystalline rocks that are normally hard e.g.
granite or basalt.

Metamorphic – These rocks are formed when sudden changes in

temperature happen, for example when molten magma “cooks” a
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sedimentary rock. They are also formed under high pressure conditions.
Examples include marble or schist.

The Rock Cycle

The rocks are linked in a very slow moving cycle called the rock cycle,
connected by tectonic forces and the processes of weathering, erosion and
deposition. The rock cycle takes millions of years to transform one type of
rock to another. It is possible for rocks to skip steps in the cycle, for example
a sedimentary rock can be weathered, eroded and deposited to become a
new sedimentary rock.

Erosion and
and deposition

Heating, Igneous
pressure and Rocks

Melting and
Of Magma

Erosion, Weathering and Deposition

Weathering is the breaking down of rocks without movement; mainly due to

the forces of weather. Chemical weathering is the dissolving of rocks by
natural acidity in rain; physical weathering is the breaking up of rocks due to
changes in temperature and biotic weathering is the break down or rocks by
living organisms.

Erosion is the movement of the products of weathering, and may involve

breaking the rock further. The main agents of erosion are rivers and streams,
wind, glaciers and gravity.

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Deposition occurs when the agents of erosion drop the particles as they no
longer have the energy to move them. The compression of these particles
over time will result in a sedimentary rock forming.

Sedimentary, Igneous and Metamorphic Rock Formations

Sedimentary rocks are normally found in layers that can be folded, faulted,
heated or pressurized. Igneous rocks are formed when molten magma rises
up through lines of weakness in the rocks and cools at or under the surface
forming crystals. Metamorphic rocks form where the sedimentary rocks come
into contact with the igneous rocks.

This type of igneous intrusion is later weathered and eroded to form granite
upland areas such as Dartmoor in the UK or islands such as Koh Samui,
Thailand. Mineral resources are often found in these metamorphic regions.

Fossil Fuel Formation

Fossil fuels are made from the fossilized remains of plants or animals from
millions of years ago. Different types of fossil fuel are formed from different
environments of formation. These rocks are fuels as the organic material in
the organisms did not decompose fully due to low oxygen conditions in the
environment. They are therefore rich in organic hydrocarbons that contain
stored energy originating in plant photosynthesis.

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Petroleum oil is formed under the sea from dead bodies of small plankton;
natural gas and tar are formed along with these deposits.

Coal is formed in a swampy environment from the bodies of trees and

swamp animals.

Mineral Formation

Ore minerals are rocks that have valuable minerals deposited in them. These
minerals are often formed from the metamorphosis around an underground
igneous intrusion. In other words rock is cooked by the bubbling of molten
magma through the rocks. Many crystals are likely to form and a number of
valuable metals may be found. For example the mining of tin is often
associated with large granite intrusions such as are found in SW England and
Phuket. Both areas supported large tin mining industries in the past, until the
tin ran out or became economically not worth mining. Other examples of ore
minerals include iron ores (e.g. magnetite or haematite).

Part 2: Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Plate Tectonics

It was suggested by a number of people that the earth’s crust is not stable
since at least the 16th century when it was noticed that the continents of
South America and Africa interlocked. This theory of moving land was known
as called “Continental Drift Theory” and not accepted by many Geographers
until the 1960’s when the full theory of plate tectonics was introduced. The
basis of plate tectonics is to understand that the world is made of a number
of crustal plates, rather like the surface of an egg cracked slowly by rolling it
over a table. These plates are moving due to the convection cycles of magma
in the mantle below, that are rising under mid ocean ridges and falling at
subduction zones.

Types of tectonic activity

Folding occurs where pressure on rocks in the crust causes them to bend.

Faulting occurs where the pressure on rocks in the crust causes them to
break and move apart.

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Constructive Boundaries and Mantle Convection Currents

New crustal plate is formed at the ridge pushing away in

both directions to form new oceanic plate

Convection currents of molten magma rise up in the mantle under the ridge.
Ridges are found in the centre of all major oceans around 5km under the
sea. Low grade volcanic activity and earthquakes are associated with them.

Destructive boundaries

Subduction Zones

Oceanic Plate
pushes towards the Continental Plate
continental plate pushes towards
Continental Crust Oceanic Plate

Mantle Rocks

Mountain building occurs here, where the rocks in the crust are pushed up
higher by plate collisions to form high mountain ranges. When oceanic crust
is subducted under oceanic crust then Island Arcs form from volcanic
activity e.g. Sumatra and Java, Indonesia.

NOTE – In the top diagram the convection current is rising and the bottom
diagram it is falling.

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Continental Collision Zone

Continental Continental
Crust Crust
Pushes this Pushes this
way way

“roots” pushed

Mantle Rocks

The Himalayan Mountain range is a good example of this kind of boundary.

Continental Crust collisions produce the highest mountains and the thickest locations
for Crustal Rock. Here the crust can reach 70km deep. These boundaries are marked
by intense earthquake activity and mountain building, but no volcanic activity.

Transform Fault Boundary Crust

Mantle Rocks

In transform fault boundaries the plates do not move directly together, but slide
past each other. This kind of boundary generates a lot of earthquakes. The
most famous example is the San Andreas Fault in California, USA.

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Summary table of different kinds of plate boundaries

Type of Examples Activity Characteristics
Mid-Ocean Low grade These plate boundaries are
Constructive Ridges e.g. earthquake and the only places where new
or Divergent Mid- volcanic activity crust is made, that is why
Boundaries Atlantic under the ocean, they are called constructive.
Ridge only on land in a They are found deep down in
few locations the middle of the major
such as Iceland. oceans and always push
Forms new plate away from the boundary on
and may new both sides (diverge). It is
land or whole thought they form where
islands e.g. mantle convection currents
Surtsey Island in rise.
Subduction Associated with These plate margins have a
Destructive Zones – mountain higher density oceanic plate
or e.g. Rocky building, Island pushed under lighter
Convergent Mountains, Arc formation and continental crusts or oceanic
Boundaries North high grade crust. One plate is subducted
America. earthquakes and or pushed under the other.
explosive volcanic They create many
eruptions spectacular geographic
including the features such as oceanic
December 2004 trenches (the deepest
earthquake and oceans) and high mountains
tsunami, and Mt. such as the Rocky Mountains
St. Helens in 1984 in the USA.
Continental Form large Continental crusts are the
Collisions mountain ranges same density, so one plate
and the deepest does not go under the other.
continental crusts Instead the plates crumple,
such as the pushing both up into the
Himalayas. atmosphere and down in to
No volcanic the mantle. The Himalayas
activity. were formed by the Indian
plate crashing into the
Eurasian plate and is still
rising today.
Conservative Lateral or A great deal of The plates do not directly
Boundaries transform plate movement collide, but push past each
boundaries is found causing other.
earthquakes. For
example the San
Andreas Fault.

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Causes and Types of Earthquakes

Earthquakes are the sudden repeated movements of the earth’s crust

caused by shock waves from plate boundaries. Three forms of shock wave

1. Primary “P” Push/Pull waves (fastest)

2. Secondary “S” or Shake waves
3. Long “L” Surface waves (slowest)

The slow moving surface waves causing the most damage. Earthquakes are
measured in intensity using the Richter scale. Earthquakes are extremely
common tectonic events, occurring every day under the ocean. Even large
earthquakes of over 7 on the Richter scale occur every month.

Plates move continuously at plate boundaries against a lot of friction. When

the friction is too great the plate stops moving, this is called a seismic gap.
Seismic gaps lead to a build up of pressure and when this is released an
earthquake occurs. The type of plate boundary influences the type of
earthquake found there, with transform boundaries generating the largest

Causes and Types of Vulcanicity

Vulcanicity is the activity associated with the movement of molten magma

from the earth’s mantle forming volcanoes and other features such as
“magma bubbles” under the ground. Volcanoes are formed when magma is
forces up through either continental or oceanic crusts. Magma may rise due
to differences in density or the movement of crustal plates, particularly in
subduction zones.

Volcanic eruptions can be measured on the volcanic explosivity scale. Mid

ocean ridges produce low grade volcanoes and subduction zones high grade,
the other kinds of boundaries do not produce volcanoes. Volcanoes can
produce earthquakes.

Volcanic eruptions are far less frequent than earthquakes – compare the
threat frequencies on the two diagrams.

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Examples 6.4 7.2 8.2 9.1

India1993 Kobe, San Sumatra,
6.9 Japan Francisco Indonesia
San 1995 1906 2004
Francisco 7.8 9.5
1989 Mexico 8.8 Chile,
City Lisbon, 1960
1985 Portugal
Richter Scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Global Frequency Every Every Every Every Every
Of Threat Minute Hour Week Month Year

Richter 1 -2 - Detected Richter 5-6 Distinct shaking,

by Seismographs Structural Damage occurs, Richter 9 Rare and
poorly built houses collapse. extreme earthquakes,
surface cracks open up.
Richter 3-4 Faint Tremors
Richter 7-8 Major Massive faults and folds
Felt – Little Physical Damage
Earthquake with violent occur.
shaking destroying buildings
The Richter Scale and infrastructure.

This is a measure of the size of earthquake shock waves; it is not linear, but logarithmic. This means that each level is approximately ten
times greater in force than the previous point on the scale.
A large nuclear weapon explodes equivalent to 32 million tons of TNT, this would create shock waves of around 7 on the scale.
Around 32 billion tons of TNT would be needed to generate an equivalent shock to level 9.

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Examples Regular, 1997 1994 1980 1991 1815 73,500

slow Plymouth, Rabaul Mt. St. Mt. Tambora Years ago
flow Montserra Papua Helens, Pinatabu, Sumawa, Toba,
“Pa Hoe t New USA Phillipines. Indonesia Sumatra
Hoe” Caribbean Guinea Global 50 km3 of 3000km3 of
Lavas in cooling ash blown crust blown
Iceland effects on into the in to the
climate atmosphere atmosphere
VEI 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Global Frequency Every Every Every 100 Every Every
Of Threat Year Ten years 1,000 years 50,000
years years

VEI 0-1 Low and frequent VEI 4-5 Large to major VEI 8 Super-eruptions
eruptions that are typical of eruptions that cause Rare and regionally
mid-ocean ridges or hot spots regional effects, local devastating eruptions with
devastation massive global climatic
VEI 2-3 small to moderate effects -“volcanic winter”
eruptions that can cause
extensive local damage VEI 6-7 Massive eruptions causing
regional devastation, may last for a
long time. Global climate influenced
causing crop failures.
The Volcanic Explosivity Index

This scale was developed in the 1980’s to allow comparisons of eruptions. It is also a logarithmic scale like the Richter. The VEI scale
combines measures of how much material is sent up into the atmosphere, along with how fast the volcano erupts.

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Economic Aspects of Living in Earthquake and Volcano Zones

There are some benefits to life near the plate boundaries. Geothermal energy
supplies may be exploited to heat water or generate electricity. This happens
in Iceland and Japan. Volcanic eruptions produce very fertile soils and these
attract farmers to the slopes of the volcanoes – such as rice farmers in
Sumatra and Java, Indonesia. On the other hand economic damage caused
by these events is huge. Despite these limitations some of the most
developed cities in the world are found in areas that are at great risk from
Earthquake damage e.g. San Franciso or Tokyo. Here a considerable amount
of extra money is put into the design and construction of buildings to make
them more resistant to damage.

The impacts of earthquakes and volcanoes on people

Damage to property and loss of life from earthquakes is far greater than that
of volcanoes. This is due to the fact that they occur more frequently and
cause destruction in a wider area. It is often said that earthquakes don’t kill
people, buildings kill people. In many earthquakes it is the collapse of
buildings on top of people that kills, not the earthquake itself. Fires breaking
out due to the earthquake can also lead to massive increases in the death toll.
Additional deaths are caused by broken power lines and the panic responses
of crowds of people. Tsunamis caused by earthquakes can take the death toll
up massively spreading the disaster over much wider areas.

Volcanic eruptions may cause deaths due to the eruption of lava, ash or
volcanic bombs. But the pyroclastic flows - “glowing clouds” of dust and ash,
with temperatures exceeding 300 to 800 degrees OC, that move at speeds of
over 100 km per hour from the eruption sites cause many more deaths.
Volcanic mudflows are also one of the biggest killers from eruption sites;
mixtures of water and ash can move at tremendous speeds down the side of
a volcano. Tsunamis may be triggered by volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.

The effects of an eruption or earthquake may be greater in the aftermath if

relief efforts are not able to help. Crops may have been destroyed and a lack
of food can lead to malnutrition and famine. Water related diseases can also
spread quickly in disaster struck areas due to poor sanitation and a lack of
clean water.

The economic damage to a disaster area may continue for some time after
the event itself. Industries may be directly damaged and take some time for
development to return. Workers and markets may relocate to other area,
such as the tourist trade in Phuket following the 2004 tsunami.

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Comparison of Some of the Worst Disasters.

Date Place Event No of Main Cause of Death

1976 Tangshan, 7.8 242,000- Collapse of Buildings
China Earthquake 650,000
1920 Gansu, 8.6 200,000 Landslides
China Earthquake
1923 Tokyo 8.3 143,000 Fire
Yokohama, Earthquake
1927 Xining 7.9 200,000
China Earthquake
1960 Chile and 9.5 6,000- Tsunami
Pacific Earthquake 10,000
2004 Sumatra 9.1 155,000- Tsunami
and Indian Earthquake 250,000
1985 Armero, Nevado del 25,000 Mudslides
Columbia Ruiz
1883 Krakatoa, Volcanic 36,000 Tsunami
Indoesia Eruption
1815 Tambora, Volcanic 92,000 Famine (80,000)
Indonesia Eruption Glowing Clouds (12,000)
1902 Martinique, Mt. Pelee 35,000 Glowing Clouds
Caribbean Eruption

Strategies for managing the impacts of earthquakes and volcanoes

Many earthquakes occur away from human settlements and cause no

damage, but as population increases there are more people found living in
earthquake zones. Volcanoes may actually attract people due to the good
farming found on the slopes. Although it is not possible to actually predict
either event it is clear that monitoring can help give some warning of volcanic
eruption and indicate the likely location of earthquakes along a plate
boundary. In some situations such as Mexico City fast response to a quake
event can actually give an opportunity to evacuate to shelters (Mexico City is
a long way from the fault lines). In the case of tsunamis it is also possible to
give accurate early warnings if monitoring buoys are in position.

Planning for the design of settlements in earthquake zones can save many
lives, through the zoning of land uses. If hazardous industrial areas or
refineries are positioned near to domestic areas then the risk of dangerous
fires or explosion is likely to threaten more lives. Key routes into areas for
evacuation and relief efforts can be designed so that they are unlikely to be
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blocked by damage to structures such as bridge. The design of buildings can
make considerable difference. Tall buildings are designed to swing with the
earthquake, otherwise they break.

Part 3: Harvesting the Lithosphere’s Resources

Searching for Lithosphere Resources

A variety of techniques are used to determine the location of lithosphere

resources. Geologists map the strata of rocks found at the surface and try to
determine the positions of these rocks under the ground, this is known as
stratigraphy. They will also examine and predict the quality and purity of
any resources to try and determine if it will be economic to extract them.

If geologists predict valuable resources are likely to be present then seismic

surveys are carried out to work out underground structures by using
controlled explosions or other impacts and listening to patterns in the
reflected sound using a series of geophones.

Surveys of magnetic fields or gravity can also help determine under

ground structures indicated by variations in the density of rocks. These
geophysical techniques are also carried out at sea, particularly in the search
for oil (see below for exploratory drilling).

Extracting Lithosphere Resources

Solid resources found at the surface or nearly at the surface can be mined
directly by digging into the ground. This technique is called open-cast
mining; coal, copper, bauxite and china clay are sometimes extracted this

Open-cast mining can be carried out on a massive scale, creating huge holes
in the ground, such as the Morenci copper mine in Arizona, USA that is 3km
across and 500m deep.

Deeper resources are mined by using underground mining. Drift mining is

carried out where the useful beds of rock are found on the side of a hill or
mountain and the miners simply cut in from the edge of the hill. Deep mines
may involve accessing the mineral resources deep under the ground using
lifts down long shafts.

The deepest mine shaft changes each year as the mines get deeper, but it is
normally one of the South African Gold Mines. Some of these currently go
deeper than 3.5km into the crust e.g. the East Rand mine at 3,585 meters
deep in 2003.

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Extracting Oil and Gas Resources

Oil is a liquid mineral that is formed in source rocks (see earlier), but may
later move through spaces of certain sedimentary rocks called reservoir
rocks. Natural gas may be found with oil, in the rocks above it, or on its own.
Gas is piped directly from the gas fields, which may be under the sea.
It is rare to find any evidence of oil at the surface so geophysical techniques
(see above) along with exploration drilling are carried out, the sequence of
rocks that come through the drill (the mud log) giving further evidence for the
presence of oil.

At sea the exploration drilling takes place on jack-up platforms in depths of

water less than 50m, or in deeper water semi-submersible rigs. Very deep
drilling takes place from specialized drilling ships.

If oil is found during exploration then massive production oil rigs are put
into place to extract the oil. The oil extracted is crude oil which varies in
quality and impurities.

This crude oil is taken into oil refineries and it is used to produce a large
range of different grades of oil for different purposes from rocket fuel to
diesel. Additionally there is a large range of oil by-products that are made in
refineries such as some plastics.

Use of lithosphere resources in industry

Most industrial processes are still dependent on fossil fuel energy supplies of
either coal or oil. Additionally most machinery is dependent on iron or steel
and bulk resources such as clay (for cement), sand and gravel are used for
the buildings and other constructions using concrete.

Limestone (calcium carbonate) has a large variety of uses including the

purification or iron during smelting, neutralizing acids from fossil fuel
burning in power stations, making lime (calcium oxide) for agriculture,
glass making or baking with clay to make cement.
Uranium and plutonium are found in mineral ores, these are important
fuels for nuclear power stations (see energy section in Biosphere II)

The location of mining areas and related industries

Lithosphere resources occur where geological processes form them, so they

are found only in some restricted locations. Mineral ores for example are
found mainly around areas where tectonic activity has or is taking place near
plate boundaries. Other kinds of rocks are associated with the conditions
found in the centre of plates. Kimberlite, that yields diamonds, is found only
where rocks from deep in the mantle arise through volcanic plugs. So
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resources are mined where they are found, with one exception that is natural
gas which is piped from under the ocean to the land.

Mining takes place where the resource is, but where processing and related
industry take place will depend on the type of resource. Crude oil is easy to
transport by tanker and refineries may be located a long way from the fields.
Coal on the other hand is an extremely bulky fuel and can yield relatively
small amounts of energy for its weight. Coal power stations are generally built
closer to coal fields due to this. Transport by water – rivers, canals or sea –
can be a good deal cheaper so coal may be moved longer distances like this.

Uranium yields the equivalent of around 50,000 tonnes of coal and so can be
moved large distances to make energy, which is why the UK can import it
from Australia.

Some industries that require specific resources or large amounts of cheap

energy will still have to locate near to those resources. Modern “footloose”
industries are rarely dependant on such specifics, but the industrial revolution
in the United Kingdom was centered on regions that had abundant coal and
limestone for steel manufacture. Mines or manufacturing industries that
require large labour forces may need to move close to large population
centres or encourage the labour to move closer to the mines and factories.

A selection of minerals, their ores and uses.

Mineral Resource Mineral Ore Use of the Ore
Iron Haematite To make steel for construction work or
used directly.
Tin Cassiterite Used for food cans etc.
Aluminium Bauxite Bottle tops, cans for food an drinks,
aeroplane parts, cooking foil etc.

Copper Chalcopyrite Good electrical conductor.

Lead Galena Used to make batteries
Zinc Sphalerite Used to coat iron to protect it from rust.
Diamonds Kimberlite Cutting tools and valuable gemstones
Uranium Pitchblende Used to produce in nuclear reactions for
power generation and weapons.

Exploitation of Mineral Reserves

Minerals resources are not always mined until they are completely exhausted.
It may become economically unviable to take out the materials if the price
changes. For example production in the coalfields of the UK fell as a result of
a reduction in demand and a political decision to switch to oil. Improved

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technologies and changes in prices may combine to allow resources to be
mined in the future that are not at present.

Exploitation of Oil

Oil has been the most important of all mineral resources during the 20 th
century. The discovery of oil fields peaked in the 1960’s and it has been
harder to discover new oil over the last 50 years, although the techniques for
survey and extraction have improved with technological development.

The amount of oil discovered in the 20th century can be estimated at around
1,800 billion barrels as shown by the area below the dashed line in the graph.
The amount consumed during the same period can be estimated in the same
way as around 1,115 billion barrels. Over 90% of the oil discovered has been
found in large fields of a minimum 100 million barrels of oil or gas equivalent

The Future for Oil

The demand for oil is increasing at a rate faster than population growth rate,
with massive increases coming from the development of car markets in the
Asian region. This increase demand will continue to push the prices higher in
the future, particularly as supply cannot increase indefinitely. although it is
unlikely to physically years. However the rising price is going to make it
economically inaccessible, particularly for LECD’s, in the near future. It is
thought by many working in the industry that peak production of oil is likely
to happen in the near future.

Changes in Accessibility with Market Price

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Oil not being extracted today may be recoverable in some locations in the
future, although it is inaccessible at the current market price Mostly oil fields
are not completely drained, even older fields. Higher prices will allow more
money for investment in enhanced recovery techniques. Lower grade
reserves such as oil tars may also be exploited and oil fields that are closed
now may be reopened.

Extreme Climates influence extraction

Future oil supplies are likely to be exploited increasingly in more extreme

environments such as in the Alaskan oil fields of North America. The extreme
polar climate here will add further costs to the extraction and these will be
passed on to the consumer. There are conflicts of interest with
conservationists working to protect these environments in both the Arctic and
the Antarctic regions.

Implications of global trade patterns in lithosphere resources

The global trade in these resources is of great significance to the economic

development of countries, creating a situation where all the world’s
economies are interdependent on each other. A developed country cannot
supply all of its needs from within its own boundaries. The global markets are
also of military and strategical significance, for example the need for oil to
power armed forces and uranium or plutonium to produce nuclear weapons.

The impact of mineral exploitation on the environment and human health

In some LEDC’s the cheapness of human labour is exploited to bring valuable

minerals to the surface, particularly gemstones such as diamonds or valuable
metals like silver. In the silver mines of Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolivia children as
young as ten spend up to 12 hours a day mining for silver. Respiratory
diseases, such as bronchitis, bring down the life expectancies of many
miners from inhaling the particles of rock dust in the air underground.

Rock falls may cause more immediate damage to health, death or loss of
limbs. In very deep mines the conditions may be very hazardous.
Tremendous temperatures and pressures exist at this depth and rock
bursts from the side of the tunnels occur, accounting for at least some of
the 250 deaths a year in South African mines.

Up on the surface of the mines tunneling may lead to landslides; these can
be devastating for the surrounding villages if the mines are not dug safely.
The processing of rocks to remove ore minerals can cause further problems to
the people living in the area including noise, water and air pollution.

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Water pollution from mines can be a major environmental problem; mines
flooding after they are abandoned can lead to toxic compounds such as
cyanide or heavy metals flooding out of the mines. Overflow water from
abandoned mines that reaches rivers or lakes can kill large quantities of

The global economic consequences of over-exploitation and depletion of

lithosphere resources

Mining can not be a sustainable activity in principle, as the resource is non-

renewable on a human time scale. However some resources are so
abundant in the lithosphere that they are not going to run out for a very long
time. Clearly oil is going to run out in the near future and this will lead to far
ranging changes to the way that we supply and use energy in the world. Coal
has a longer life span, but in half a century will also be finished. Other mineral
resources will have more specific concerns related to the industries they

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