Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mineral prospecting on the ocean floor

To say that prospecting and mineral exploration is embracing technology is perhaps an understatement when we consider the news that a breakthrough project is moving forward in New Guinea to mine the ocean floor. Well black smokers anyway.

Scientists have documented concentrations of metals found near underwater hydrothermal vents, nicknamed "black smokers" because they act like chimneys, or conduits in the earth's spreading plates, that allow sea water to seep into the earth's crust, where it becomes heated, all the while leaching precious minerals from the surrounding rock and returning mineral super enriched water back up the chimneys.

This soup of water and minerals spews out and cools depositing the enriched mineral material on the ocean floor near the vents. That enriched material is the kind of stuff that prospectors dream of finding when they search for new deposits.

This type of activity also helped to create many of the on land deposits being mined or explored today, however the action took place long - long ago when the land was covered with sea water. The hydrothermal vents and veins that created the on land deposits have long become dormant. The land has been uplifted to high and dry areas and deposits are mined using traditional means.

Today we have the technology to mine these active black smokers providing that we are careful in doing so in a sound manner, where the unique sea life around the black smokers is protected.

About 200 active vents have been found, though only 10 nearby deposits are considered prolific enough to mine, according to a report by the International Seabed Authority. Underwater dormant vents are much tougher to locate, but the deposits around them may also be fruitful. An ISA report indicates a single deposit could weigh 100 million tons.

Although I don’t expect to jump overboard and have a look at one of those deposits anytime soon, it certainly is interesting reading and a testament to human ingenuity.

The Title above provides a reference link to the news story.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting reading for sure!!!

Take care

Wilbert McGrath

Unknown said...

Thanks for the kind words!