Resources and Reserves: Definitions & Examples

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  • 0:07 Reserves as Parts of Resources
  • 0:53 Types of Resources
  • 3:09 Types of Reserves
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

You might hear a lot about reserves and resources on Earth, but what exactly is the difference between the two? In this video lesson, you will learn about each, as well as how they represent different things that are quite related to each other.

Reserves Are Part of a Resource

Think about getting a slice of pie when you were a kid. You only got one piece on your plate, which was a small amount compared with what you knew was in the overall pie. Yet you only had access to this one piece because your parents put the rest of it away for later. The entire pie represents a resource, the total amount of an object, substance, or energy supply present. The slice of pie on your plate - the portion of the resource that is accessible - is the reserve of that resource.

Many types of resources exist on Earth, like coal, oil, natural gas, sunlight, and wind. Each resource - the overall quantity of something - has reserves - the part we can access with mining, drilling or other methods.

Types of Resources

How much of a resource is actually present? That's hard to say. Can you say for certain how many pies there are on Earth right now? Probably not, but you can make estimates and inferences based on information you have. Similarly, the total amount of a resource can be described based on information we get from science and technology.

Sometimes we can measure a resource to the point where we can quantify that amount as well as estimate how much more is available. This is the portion of the resource that is called the identified resource, which is the portion of a resource that has been either measured or estimated. Basically, what this means is that we have measured it well enough that we feel confident saying a certain amount of that resource exists. Let's use the pie example to illustrate this. If you take a survey of your neighbors to see how many of them have pies, that's a known quantity. If you expand your survey to other neighborhoods - and maybe even other neighboring towns - you can probably start making some estimates about the amount of pies in the state (or maybe even the country). This would be your identified resource for pies.

The other portion of a resource is the undiscovered resource. This is the amount of the resource that is unknown and cannot be estimated. This includes portions of the resource that are assumed to be present but aren't measured because they haven't been explored or are in places that are not possible to get measurements from. Say, for example, that you're aware that deep in the jungle people are making pies, but you are not able to measure or even estimate how many pies there are. Perhaps you have no way to travel there because the area is so remote, so you have no way to measure the amount of pies! But you know they are there, so this is the undiscovered portion of your pie resource.

Combined, the identified and undiscovered amounts for a resource are the total resource. Again, this includes all known and unknown amounts of a resource on Earth - or all of the pies present all over the world, counted or not.

Types of Reserves

Just like we can describe different parts of a resource, we can also describe different parts of a reserve. First, remember that, like the piece of pie on your plate, a reserve is the portion of a resource that is accessible. But just because we have access to something doesn't mean that it is economically feasible to do so.

Say, for example, that you have access to the piece of pie on your plate, and your sibling also has a piece of pie on his or her plate. Now, let's say that your sibling offers their piece of pie to you, but for the price of $20. Your piece of pie is much more economically valuable to you because there are no additional costs associated with it, right? It's already yours.

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