Reston, Virginia - More than 180 million metric tons of undiscovered copper resources may be found in an area of the Middle East that covers Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, western Pakistan and southwestern Afghanistan, according to a recent assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. This estimate is ten times the current annual world production for copper.

This region, the site of the ancient Tethys Sea, has a long history of mining copper, producing 420,000 metric tons in 2011 alone.  

“In an area known more for its oil, there’s a bounty of a mineral both critically and strategically important to the world’s economy,” said Larry Meinert, Program Coordinator of the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “Copper plays a vital role in all parts of our lives, from our coinage to musical instruments to our high-end electronics.”

This copper assessment is a synthesis of available information about where copper mineral deposits are known and suspected in the Earth’s crust and estimates of amounts of copper that may be present in undiscovered deposits. This assessment is part of a broader effort at assessing global mineral resources. Global totals of copper are estimated to be about 3,600 million metric tons of undiscovered resources.  

Copper is an important resource in the United States. In 2014, the United States consumed about 1.8 million metric tons of copper, while global consumption tallied about 20 million metric tons.

The United States currently has about 35 million metric tons of copper reserves, with an estimated 550 million metric tons in estimated undiscovered resources. The country with the largest reserves is Chile, with 209 million metric tons of reserves in 2014.

Copper plays a significant role in many parts of the U.S. economy. Its more common uses are in power generation and transmission, as well as electronics, such as smartphones. It’s also prominent in automobiles, with the average car containing nearly a mile of copper wiring.  

Some of copper’s less-known but still important roles are its use in frequently touched surfaces (such as brass doorknobs), where copper’s antimicrobial properties reduce the transfer of germs and disease.  It’s also used quite extensively in alloys with other metals, such as the brass in musical instruments or the copper-nickel alloy used to prevent barnacles from attaching to ship hulls.  

This assessment can be found online. The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment.