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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 Value by State in 2022

U.S. mineral production value increased by 4% YoY in 2022 to reach $98.2 billion. Which states contributed the most to domestic mineral production?

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U.S. States Ranked by the Value of their Mineral Production

The U.S. produced $98.2 billion worth of nonfuel minerals in 2022, but which states made up the majority of the mining?

This map uses data from the USGS to map and rank U.S. states by the value of their nonfuel mineral production in 2022.

The ranking takes into account the mining of nonfuel minerals that are split into two main categories: metallic minerals (like gold, copper, or silver), and industrial minerals (like phosphate rock, various types of clay, and crushed stone).

The Top Mineral-Producing States in the U.S.

Arizona tops the list of mineral-producing states, with $10.1 billion worth of minerals which account for 10.3% of the U.S. total, largely due to the state’s prolific copper production. The state of Arizona accounted for around 70% of domestic copper production in 2022, and as a result also produces large amounts of molybdenum as a byproduct.

The state of Nevada was the next top mineral producer at $8.9 billion worth of minerals, thanks to its longstanding leadership in gold mining (accounting for 72% of U.S. gold production in 2022) and by having the only operating lithium project in America.

States in the Western region of the U.S. dominate the ranking of top mineral-producing states, holding the top two spots and making up half of the top 10 when it comes to total mineral production value.

RankStateMineral Production Value (2022)Share of U.S. total
1Arizona$10.1B10.3%
2Nevada$8.9B9.1%
3Texas$8.0B8.2%
4California$5.6B5.7%
5Minnesota*$4.8B4.9%
6Alaska$4.5B4.6%
7Florida*$2.8B2.9%
8Utah$3.6B3.7%
9Michigan$3.4B3.4%
10Missouri$3.2B3.2%

*The value of these states is a partial total which excludes withheld values by the USGS to avoid disclosing company proprietary data. Rankings remain unaffected which is why some states may rank higher than others despite having a lower value.

Texas rounds out the top three at $8 billion worth of minerals produced in 2022, largely thanks to its dominant production of crushed stone. The state of Texas was the top producer of crushed stone in 2022 at more than $2.8 billion worth, nearly double that of the next largest producer, Florida, which produced $1.5 billion worth.

What Minerals is the U.S. Producing the Most of?

Nonfuel mineral production is categorized into two main categories by the USGS, metals/metallic minerals and industrial minerals.

While not as shiny, the produced value of industrial minerals far outweighs that of metallic minerals. While $34.7 billion worth of metals were produced in 2022, industrial mineral production value was nearly double at $63.5 billion.

Construction aggregates like construction sand and gravel along with crushed stone made up almost half of industrial minerals production at $31.4 billion, with crushed stone being the leading mineral commodity overall at $21 billion of production value.

Following crushed stone, the next top minerals produced but the U.S. were (in decreasing order of value): cement, copper, construction sand and gravel, and gold.

Although the value of metals production decreased by 6% compared to 2021, industrial minerals production increased by 10% year-over-year, resulting in an overall increase in America’s overall nonfuel mineral production of 4%.

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Misc

Visualizing the Opportunity Cost of Unrecycled Metals in the U.S.

Exploring the quantity and dollar value of recycled metals in the U.S. by visualizing metal recycling ratios.

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The Opportunity Cost of Unrecycled Metals in the U.S.

Metals are an essential resource for modern society, used in everything from construction and transportation to technology and medical equipment. As the demand for these minerals continues to grow, so does the amount of waste generated by their production and consumption.

Recycling this metal waste is not just a win for sustainability; it also has huge economic benefits. In the visual above, we explore the ratio of recycled vs. unrecycled metals in the U.S. using 2020 Recycling Statistics by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Metal Recycling in the U.S.

Opportunity cost is a concept that refers to the benefits that are forgone when choosing one option over another. In the case of unrecycled metals, the opportunity cost is the potential economic and environmental benefits that could have been achieved through increasing metal recycling ratios.

Below are the recycling rates for select metals in the U.S. in 2020.

Metal% of supply recycled
Aluminum54
Chromium25
Copper36
Iron & Steel52
Lead77
Magnesium55
Nickel52
Tin36

The above recycled metals represented a dollar value of $26 billion in 2020. Their unrecycled counterparts, on the other hand, represented $28 billion.

Metals can either be recycled from scrap that results from the manufacturing process (known as “new scrap”) or scrap from post-consumer products (“old scrap.”) Regardless of the source, many of them, especially chromium, copper, and tin, have the potential to reap further sustainability and economic benefits by recycling a larger proportion of their scrap supplies.

The Case for Metal Recycling

When compared with the mining, processing and transport of new metals, recycling metals can provide a significantly less energy-intensive alternative, saving enough energy each year to power millions of homes in the U.S.

Recycling metals can also save natural resources, create more green jobs, and reduce a country’s dependency on mineral imports by supplementing its supply of raw materials.

Overall, the potential for metal recycling is vast, and taking steps to increase the amount of recycled metals in the U.S. can lead to even greater sustainability and economic benefits.

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