Mined-Over Matter: Remembering Copper Mining at Keweenaw National Historic Park, Upper Peninsula Michigan

Module by: Judy McIlrath, University of South Florida

Cover Page by: Judy McIlrath, Len Vacher, and Denise Davis, University of South Florida

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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum module introduces Geology of National Parks students to the history of copper mining in the Keweenaw region along the shores of Lake Superior, Michigan. The module briefly covers the geologic setting of the copper deposits, the uses and need for copper, the economic value of the copper produced by the mining, and the legacy of abandoned mines and a present-day Superfund site. Along the way, students complete short, ad hoc spreadsheets to answer questions involving the grade of the ore, the volume of rock mined to obtain the 15.5 billion pounds of copper that was produced, the profits generated by the copper by 1925, and the value of those dollars today taking account of inflation between then and now.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number NSF DUE-0836566. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Learning Goals


Students will:

  • Read material on Keweenaw National Historic Park, the history of the copper mining, why the copper is there, and the meaning of words such as ore and grade.
  • Calculate the total amount of copper mined up to 1925 from the amount mined from each of twelve zones.
  • Calculate the amount of rock mined from each zone given the amount of copper mined and the amount of copper per ton of rock.
  • Calculate the grade of the ore as a percent for each zone.
  • Calculate the amount of profits derived from each zone given the profits per pound copper (cents), and the grade and amount of mined rock determined previously.
  • Calculate the amount of rock that would need to be mined to produce the copper needed in a 2100-square foot home, given the grade of ore.
  • Update the amount of profits assuming that a 1925 dollar is valued at $12.15 now.
  • Recalculate the amount of profits after debiting for the EPA's estimate for cleanup of the Superfund site.

In the process, students will:

  • Become aware of a mining district that before 1887 was the largest producer of copper in the US.
  • Get a glimpse of the relevance of the word "economic" in economic geology.
  • Learn that comparatively small quantities of metals are retrieved from huge volumes of rock.
  • See an example of a present-day environmental consequence from a long-ago industry.
  • Become aware of the concept of abandoned mines.
  • Learn that there are national historic parks as well as national parks and monuments that have a geologic story.

Context for Use

This module is designed for potential use in the Geology of National Parks service course at USF. The course is offered as an online course every semester. It includes readings from Parks and Plates, weekly quizzes based on that textbook, and weekly student activities designed to align the course with the University's general education requirements. This module is intended to be one of those activities, with the specific goal of meeting the gen-ed quantitative literacy dimension.

Description and Teaching Materials


The module is a PowerPoint presentation with embedded spreadsheets. Click on the link below to download a copy of the module.

Optimal results are achieved with Microsoft Office 2007 or later; the module will function in earlier versions with slight cosmetic compromises. If the embedded spreadsheets are not visible, save the PowerPoint file to disk and open it from there.

The above PowerPoint presentation file is the student version of the module. It includes a template for students to use to complete the spreadsheet(s) and answer the end-of-module questions, and then turn in for grading.

An instructor version is available by request. The instructor version includes the completed spreadsheet. Send your request to Len Vacher (vacher@usf.edu) by filling out and submitting the Instructor Module Request Form.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The module is constructed to be a stand-alone resource. It can be used as a homework assignment, lab activity, or as the basis of an interactive classroom activity. It was used as an out-of-class activity in a senior-elective course, Environmental Geology of the National Parks (for geology majors and nonmajors), during development of the module in Spring 2010, and as an out-of-class activity in Computational Geology (a QL course for geology majors) in Fall 2010 and Fall 2011. In general, the students considered this module to be one of the more elementary modules in the collection. It is now one of the modules that is rotated into the online introductory-level Geology of National Parks course.


There is a slide at the end of the presentation that contains end-of-module questions. The end-of-module questions can be used to examine student understanding and learning gains from the module. Pre/post test, pre/post test answer key, and answer key for end-of-module questions are at the end of the instructor version of the module.

References and Resources


  • Keweenaw Structure:Source Republication of USGS public-domain bulletin (see below) by Mineralogical Society of America at http://www.minsocam.org/MSA/collectors_corner/usgs/b1309.htm, 1975, Norman King Huber, The geologic story of Isle Royale National Park, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Geological_Survey Bulletin 1309.

US National Park Service (NPS)

Keweenaw National Historical Park


Keweenaw National Historical Park: Quincy Smelter

Help Save the Quincy Smelter

NPS: Abandoned Mineral Lands

US Environmental Protection Agency: National Priorities List (NPL)

US Environmental Protection Agency: Superfund Program for Hazardous Waste Sites