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Visualizing the Abundance of Elements in the Earth’s Crust

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Visualizing the Abundance of Elements in the Earth’s Crust

Visualizing the Abundance of Elements in the Earth’s Crust

Elements in the Earth’s crust provide all the basic building blocks for mankind.

But even though the crust is the source of everything we find, mine, refine, and build, it really is just scratching the surface of our planet.

After all, the innermost layer of the Earth, the core, represents 15% of the planet’s volume, whereas the mantle occupies 84%. Representing the remaining 1% is the crust, a thin layer that ranges in depth from approximately 5-70 km (~3-44 miles).

This infographic takes a look at what elements make up this 1%, based on data from WorldAtlas.

Earth’s Crust Elements

The crust is a rigid surface containing both the oceans and landmasses. Most elements are found in only trace amounts within the Earth’s crust, but several are abundant.

The Earth’s crust comprises about 95% igneous and metamorphic rocks, 4% shale, 0.75% sandstone, and 0.25% limestone.

Oxygen, silicon, aluminum, and iron account for 88.1% of the mass of the Earth’s crust, while another 90 elements make up the remaining 11.9%.

RankElement% of Earth's Crust
1Oxygen (O)46.1%
2Silicon (Si)28.2%
3Aluminum (Al)8.2%
4Iron (Fe)5.6%
5Calcium (Ca)4.1%
6Sodium (Na)2.3%
7Magnesium (Mg)2.3%
8Potassium (K)2.0%
9Titanium (Ti)0.5%
10Hydrogen (H)0.1%
Other elements0.5%
Total100.0%

While gold, silver, copper and other base and precious metals are among the most sought after elements, together they make up less than 0.03% of the Earth’s crust by mass.

#1: Oxygen

Oxygen is by far the most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 46% of mass—coming up just short of half of the total.

Oxygen is a highly reactive element that combines with other elements, forming oxides. Some examples of common oxides are minerals such as granite and quartz (oxides of silicon), rust (oxides of iron), and limestone (oxide of calcium and carbon).

#2: Silicon

More than 90% of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.

Silicon links up with oxygen to form the most common minerals on Earth. For example, in most places, sand primarily consists of silica (silicon dioxide) usually in the form of quartz. Silicon is an essential semiconductor, used in manufacturing electronics and computer chips.

#3: Aluminum

Aluminum is the third most common element in the Earth’s crust.

Because of its strong affinity for oxygen, aluminum is rarely found in its elemental state. Aluminum oxide (Al2O3), aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3) and potassium aluminum sulphate (KAl(SO4)2) are common aluminum compounds.

Aluminum and aluminum alloys have a variety of uses, from kitchen foil to rocket manufacturing.

#4: Iron

The fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust is iron, accounting for over 5% of the mass of the Earth’s crust.

Iron is obtained chiefly from the minerals hematite and magnetite. Of all the metals we mine, over 90% is iron, mainly to make steel, an alloy of carbon and iron. Iron is also an essential nutrient in the human body.

#5: Calcium

Calcium makes up about 4.2% of the planet’s crust by weight.

In its pure elemental state, calcium is a soft, silvery-white alkaline earth metal. It is never found in its isolated state in nature but exists instead in compounds. Calcium compounds can be found in a variety of minerals, including limestone (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulphate) and fluorite (calcium fluoride).

Calcium compounds are widely used in the food and pharmaceutical industries for supplementation. They are also used as bleaches in the paper industry, as components in cement and electrical insulators, and in manufacturing soaps.

Digging the Earth’s Crust

Despite Jules Verne’s novel, no one has ever journeyed to the center of Earth.

In fact, the deepest hole ever dug by humanity reaches approximately 12 km (7.5 miles) below the Earth’s surface, about one-third of the way to the Earth’s mantle. This incredible depth took about 20 years to reach.

Although mankind is constantly making new discoveries and reaching for the stars, there is still a lot to explore about the Earth we stand on.

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Misc

Mapped: U.S. Mineral Production, by State

This infographic breaks down $90.4 billion in non-fuel mineral production by state.

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Mapped: U.S. Non-fuel Mineral Production, by State

Just how many minerals does the U.S. consume? In 2020, non-fuel mineral consumption worked out to around 19,000 pounds or 8.6 tonnes per person.

This includes metals like copper, iron ore, and zinc, along with construction sand, stone, cement, and other industrial minerals. With such high demand, changes in the production of these commodities often reflect how the overall economy is performing.

The above infographic maps U.S. non-fuel mineral production by state in 2021 using data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The Most Valuable Minerals

As the U.S. economy restarted in 2021, American mines generated over $90 billion in non-fuel mineral production, a 12% increase from 2020.

Before diving into the breakdown by state, here’s a look at production value by mineral type:

CategoryProduction value% of Total
Metals$33.8B37.4%
Construction aggregates$29.2B32.3%
Industrial minerals (excl. construction)$27.4B30.3%
Total$90.4B100%

Each of the categories accounted for roughly one-third of the total production value, with metals making up the largest share. Within metals, copper and gold collectively accounted for 66% of the total, followed by iron ore (13%) and zinc (7%).

The production of sand, gravel, and crushed stone—important inputs for construction—also made up a significant chunk of the value, along with other industrial minerals. Furthermore, crushed stone was the leading non-fuel mineral in 2021, with $19.3 billion in production value.

Which States Lead in Mineral Production?

Arizona, Nevada, Texas, California, and Minnesota—the top five states—accounted for nearly 40% of non-fuel mineral production value.

StateValue of Non-fuel Mineral Production% of Total
Arizona$10B11.0%
Nevada$9.4B10.3%
Texas$5.8B6.4%
California$5.3B5.8%
Minnesota$4.0B4.4%
Alaska$3.9B4.3%
Utah$3.8B4.1%
Missouri$3.3B3.7%
Michigan$3.0B3.3%
Wyoming$2.8B3.0%
Florida$2.4B2.7%
Georgia$2.0B2.3%
Montana$2.0B2.2%
Pennsylvania$2.0B2.2%
Alabama$1.9B2.1%
Colorado$1.6B1.8%
New York$1.6B1.7%
Tennessee$1.6B1.7%
Virginia$1.6B1.7%
North Caroline$1.5B1.6%
Ohio$1.4B1.5%
New Mexico$1.3B1.4%
Kansas$1.2B1.3%
Indiana$1.2B1.3%
Arkansas$1.0B1.1%
Wisconsin$1.0B1.1%
Illinois$1.0B1.1%
Iowa$0.96B1.1%
South Carolina$0.95B1.1%
Oklahoma$0.92B1.0%
Washington$0.73B0.8%
Idaho$0.72B0.8%
Louisiana$0.66B0.7%
Oregon$0.60B0.7%
Kentucky$0.59B0.6%
South Dakota$0.50B0.5%
Maryland$0.46B0.5%
New Jersey$0.40B0.4%
West Virginia$0.36B0.4%
Nebraska$0.22B0.2%
Massachusetts$0.21B0.2%
Mississippi$0.20B0.2%
Connecticut$0.18B0.2%
Hawaii$0.13B0.1%
Maine$0.13B0.1%
Vermont$0.11B0.1%
New Hampshire$0.095B0.1%
Rhode Island$0.066B0.07%
North Dakota$0.065B0.07%
Delaware$0.022B0.02%
Undistributed4.0B4.5%
Total$90.4B100.0%

Arizona and Nevada, the top two states, are the country’s biggest producers of copper and gold, respectively. Arizona also produced over $1 billion worth of construction sand and gravel in 2021, in addition to being the country’s leading producer of gemstones.

In third place was Texas, where mines produced nearly $6 billion worth of non-fuel minerals, of which 38% came from crushed stone. California, meanwhile, led in the production of construction sand and gravel, and was the country’s sole source of rare earth elements.

Minnesota also made the top five as the nation’s largest producer of iron ore. In fact, mines in Minnesota and Michigan shipped 98% of domestic usable iron ore products in 2021.

The Missing Critical Minerals

Although the U.S. is a major producer of non-fuel minerals, it still relies on imports for the supply of several minerals.

In 2021, the U.S. imported $5.3 billion worth of raw materials, in addition to $90 billion in net imports of processed mineral materials. Of the 50 minerals deemed critical to national security, the country was 100% net import reliant for 26, including graphite, manganese, and several rare earth metals.

To meet the rising demand for these minerals, U.S. President Biden announced major investments in domestic critical mineral production, including a $35 million grant to MP Materials for the processing of rare earths.

It remains to be seen whether these investments will pay off in building more resilient, end-to-end domestic critical mineral supply chains.

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Visualizing Ukraine’s Top Trading Partners and Products

This graphic visualizes Ukraine’s top international trading partners and the country’s most exported and imported products in 2020.

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ukraine international trade partners

Visualizing Ukraine’s Top Trading Partners and Products

International trade was equal to 65% of Ukraine’s GDP in 2020, totaling to $102.9 billion of goods exchanged with countries around the world.

In 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea contributed to a 30% year-over-year drop in Ukraine’s 2015 trade value ($75.6B). Now, Ukraine’s international trade has been irreversibly disrupted since Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24th, 2022.

The current conflict continues to reshape geopolitical relations and international trade—and to give context to the situation, we’ve created this graphic using IMF and UN Comtrade data to showcase Ukraine’s largest trading partners and goods traded in 2020.

Ukraine’s Largest Trading Partners

Ukraine’s largest trading partner in 2020 was China, with the value of trade between the two countries reaching $15.3 billion, more than double the value of any other trading partner.

Germany ($7.4B), Poland ($7.4B), and Russia ($7.2B) were Ukraine’s next three largest trading partners, with the majority of Ukraine’s trade with these countries being imports.

CountryTrade with Ukraine (2020)Exports from Ukraine (%)Imports to Ukraine (%)
🇨🇳 China$15.3B46%54%
🇩🇪 Germany $7.4B28%72%
🇵🇱 Poland$7.4B45%55%
🇷🇺 Russia$7.2B37%63%
🇹🇷 Turkey $4.8B50%50%
🇧🇾 Belarus$4.2B32%68%
🇮🇹 Italy $4.1B48%52%
🇺🇸 U.S.$3.9B25%75%
🇮🇳 India$2.7B73%27%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$2.6B71%29%

Source: IMF

While most of Ukraine’s trade with top partners is made up of imports, trade with both India and the Netherlands (Ukraine’s ninth and tenth largest trading partners respectively) was more export driven, with exports holding a greater than 70% share of total trade value.

Ukraine’s Top Exports and Imports

Ukraine’s strong agricultural industry makes up a large share of the country’s exports in the form of cereals, animal and vegetable oils, and seed oils. These products made up nearly 35% of Ukraine’s exports in 2020, at a value of $17 billion collectively.

Goods Exported from Ukraine (2020)Dollar ValueShare of Exports
Cereals$9.4B19.1%
Iron and steel$7.7B15.6%
Animal or vegetable fats, oils, and other products$5.8B11.7%
Ores, slag, and ash$4.4B8.9%
Electrical machinery and equipment$2.6B5.2%
Other goods$19.4B39.5%

Source: UN Comtrade

The other two cornerstones of Ukraine’s industry and exports are iron ore and steel, along with refined electrical machinery, equipment, and other mechanical appliances. In 2020, exports of crude iron and steel along with their refined products made up $13 billion in value, making up more than a quarter of Ukraine’s exports.

Ukraine’s imports are primarily vehicles, machinery, and the fuels necessary to power these goods. With the country’s energy consumption outpacing domestic energy production, mineral fuels and oils are Ukraine’s top import in 2020 at $7.42 billion.

Goods Imported from Ukraine (2020)Dollar ValueShare of Imports
Mineral fuels, oil, and mineral products$7.4B13.8%
Boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances$6.3B11.7%
Vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock$5.5B10.2%
Electrical machinery and equipment$5.3B9.9%
Pharmaceutical products$2.5B4.7%
Other goods$26.6B49.7%

Source: UN Comtrade

Primarily importing from Belarus, Russia, and Germany, Ukraine’s need for energy fuels was greatly exacerbated by Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which held 80% of Ukraine’s oil and natural gas deposits in the Black Sea.

Various kinds of machinery, vehicles, and electrical equipment are the next largest categories of goods imported, cumulatively making up 31% ($17.1B) of Ukraine’s imports.

Ukraine’s Shift Away from Russian Trade Dependence

Since its independence from the former USSR in 1991, Ukraine has steadily shifted towards Western trading partners, especially as conflicts with Russia escalated in the 2010s.

After years of negotiations, Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU in 2014 facilitated free trade between EU nations and Ukraine, reducing the country’s dependence on trade with Russia.

Ukraine is one of the most important economic centers of the former Soviet Union, and it had long been the breadbasket of the USSR thanks to its fertile chernozem soil and strong agricultural industry.

Trade value between Russia and Ukraine peaked in 2011 at $49.2 billion, and since then has fallen by 85% to $7.2 billion in 2020. During this time, European nations like Poland and Germany overtook Russia in terms of trade value with Ukraine, and in 2021 trade with the EU totaled to more than $58 billion.

War’s Effect on Ukraine’s Future Trading Partners

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is rapidly reshaping both countries’ international relations and trading partners.

Four days into the recent conflict, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy filed for Ukraine’s special admission into the EU, which would further strengthen Ukraine’s trade with European Union members. Combining the likely breakdown of Ukrainian-Russian trade with China’s lack of condemnation of Russia’s actions, Ukraine’s trade seems likely to continue shifting towards the European Union and its Western allies.

While not exactly international trade, on February 26th the U.S. committed an additional $350 million in support to Ukraine, with American financial security assistance to Ukraine totaling $1 billion over the past year. Alongside the U.S., the EU recently committed €500 million in financial support, and multiple EU and non-EU nations are providing Ukraine with military aid.

Although it’s impossible to determine the results of this conflict and its effects on international trade, the countries supporting Ukraine’s defense today are likely to become the Ukraine’s top trading partners in the future.

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