Research Paper: Penokee Range in Wisconsin

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¶ … Penokee Range in Wisconsin. We focus our analysis on various areas of the range such as its general geology, formation, surficial geology as well as quandary geology. The paper also focuses on discussions around the major issues surrounding the proposed building of an iron mine on the range. In this paper, we discuss how the mine will affect the geology of the range as well as the environmental impacts of building such a mine on the range.

The Penokee Range in Wisconsin is an important feature of the county. However, in the past few months, the region has been on the headlines as a result of the proposed building of a mine which is regarded as one of the ecological hotspots of the region. There has been a lot of foul cry from environmental agencies, house representatives and even locals on the environmental and social risks that the construction of iron mines on the range could cause. The company that wants to build the mine however claims that it enjoys the support of a "silent majority" of the residents in Ashland who it purports to be in supports of its proposal to construct an extensive iron mine in the Penokee Range (Bronam,2011). In this paper, we present an analysis of likely environmental impact of the proposed iron ore construction on the Gogebic-Penokee Range.

Formation of Gogebic-Penokee Range.

The formation of Gogebic-Penokee Range can be traced to the formation of the Precambrian-iron (James,1973). The Gogebic-Penokee Range was formed during the second phase of the Penokean Orogeny. Penokean Orogeny was a period of mountain building that took place in the early Proterozoic period (1.85-1.84) billion years ago in the North American region. This area is what is currently called Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario and Michigan. The Penokean Orogeny was a major even in North American continent formation. Prior to this event, the area was a continental margin (passive) that was occupied by a relatively shallow sea that created the large sediment deposits that includes the banded iron formations that form part of the Iron Ranges. The Penokean Orogeny took place in two distinct phases. The first phase involved the collision of an island arc known as Pembine-wausa terrane with a very ancient North American craton and this lead to the formation of the bar-arc basin. Parts of Wisconsin and Illinois were formed in the second phase which involved Marshfield terrane, a microcontinent (Holst,1989).

The geology

The Penokean orogen can best be described as an Early Proterozoic belt which is highly deformed. It trends towards south-west and Archean craton margin along the southern margin (Hoffman, 1988).The Penokean orogen is truncated by Grenville orogen to the east, Central Plains orogen to the southwest (Sims and Peterman, 1986).

The very early Penokean orogeny models for Minnesota revealed that intracratonic tectonism was the main mechanism involved in their formation (Morey and Sims, 1976). These models made a lot of emphasis on the role played by the basement rock that underwent a vertical remobilization as indicated in the work of Morey (1979). The same explanation is used for the formations in Upper Michigan. Cannon (1973) stressed the role of vertical movement of the basement rocks in the region's structural evolution. The last decade has however seen the emergence of a new theory that presents the idea of plate collisional movement as the main feature of the tectonic models for the Penokean orogeny for the Minnesota and the Upper Michigan regions (Van Schmus, 1976, Sims et al., 1987). The rock formation has several assemblages. The Wisconsin magmatic terranes are part of the southern assemblage and are primarily composed of volcanic as well as plutonic rocks. Several Geochemical analyses have indicated that these rocks have an affinity for the island arc (Sims et al., 1989, Shulz et al., 1984, Schulz, 1983).

Figure 1: A map which shows the distribution of all sorts of lithologies in the Metasedimentary and Middle Precambrian rocks that includes iron-formations, slates, conglomerates as well as carbonates. The rocks are least deformed as well as metamorphosed in regions towards the extreme direction of northwest. The rocks contain kyanite as well as other forms of minerals of metamorphic grade to the South. The metavolcanic rocks are made up of felsic and mafic lavas as well as other epiclastic and pyroclastic materials. The granitic rocks are made up of granitic plutons, post-tectonic granites (alkali-rich) and epizonal granodiorite (Ostrom,1979, p.4).

Figure 2: A schematic cross-section indicating the lithologic-structural features that occurred during the Middle Precambrian age "Penokean" event. Wisconsin is located near the Wausau (left side) at the Middle Precambrian period which took place close to 1,900 million years ago (Ostrom,1979, p.4). To the north is the platform which contains sediments like iron-formation as well as carbonate deposits.

A summary of site description

Martin (2008,p.1916) pointed out that the area is made up of a geologic feature that is referred to as Penokee range. The topography is rugged and was formed several million years ago. Since then, the area has weathered as well as eroded in order to form its current configuration. The area features three hundred and twenty foot rise in elevation. The rock that underlies the Range is very resistant with a total of 4 glacial events failing to completely pulverize it. There are two rivers, Montreal and Potato that effectively breaks through the range in order to foam very spectacular classic water gaps in this section (Martin,2008,p.357). To the southern part of the Penokee range is located Alder Creek which runs slowly, parallel to the topography of the range. The area has resistant shale, swamp conifer vegetation and alders. The bedrock has forests vegetation on it which is covered by aspen, yellow birch, maple as well as basswood. Patches of other vegetations also exists.

Issue of conservation

The areas having steep topography have in the past not been extensively The whole range had been a subject of deep-hole mining activities which ended sometime in the 1960s. This left the area relatively undisturbed. What remained are the areas that are extensively forested and are mature in regard to the growth of vegetation. Various forms of developments on the forested range coupled with various types of forest-harvesting activities, over-browsing by the local deer population as well as invasive species have degraded the habits extensively. This has also lead to a simplification of the forest structure. This led the Iron County Forestry to recognize the Penokee Range as an area for birds by setting up close to 1,700 acres of the County Forest to be used as biological reserve. The area was appropriately named the Penokee Biological Reserve.

The proposed construction of a mine on the Penokee Range

Several companies have expressed a lot of interest in constructing mines for extracting the iron ore from the iron-rich Penokee-Gogebic Range, an area that extends about twenty five miles through the Ashland and Iron Counties in northern Wisconsin (The Nature Conservancy,2011).

A large part of the Range belongs to RGGS Land and Minerals, Ltd. A company headquartered in Houston, Texas together with LaPointe Mining Co. from Minnesota. Both companies control close to 22,000 acre and twelve mile narrow stretch of the larger Penokee Range, apportion that lies southwest of a region called Hurley and close to 6-miles to the west of Mellen. Also another group of companies called the Cline Group from Florida has managed to secure an option to allow them obtain mineral rights that are held for the property. It has since gone ahead to create a subsidiary named Gogebic Taconite (G-TAC) to proceed with the mining of iron ore.

It is noted that any decision that is made to allow the extensive mining of iron as well as other minerals in the region should take a lot of considerations of the forest, water as well as other forms of natural resources that makes an important component of the region's economy and livelihood. The certification of mining activities in the area would disrupt the environmental and social equilibrium of the region since it would most likely cause a destruction of forest, loss of wildlife and hence a disruption of the tourism economies, loss of culture as well as a contamination of the currently clean and safe water sypply.The result would be disease and death for animals, humans and plants that depends on the current biodiversity.

Taconite iron ore and its source

The iron to be mined from the Gogebic-Penokee Range is called taconite iron ore which is a low-grade and magnetic iron ore. At the time when the high grade iron ire was still available in large quantities, taconite iron ore was considered a low grade iron and waster rock which was never extracted or used. However, as the supply of the high-grade iron ore dwindled, the iron ore mining industry began to realize that their only hope was taconite. They regarded it as an important resource. They therefore took their time and effort to develop a process for creating taconite pellets through the concentration of the low… [END OF PREVIEW]

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