Since the 1970s scientists have been studying the "black sive sulphide deposits. Both are positioned to become smokers" that lay hundreds of meters below the ocean sur- world leaders in underwater mineral exploration. face on the seafloor. These are areas where the seafloor is Nautilus's focus for 2006 was the Solwara Project, located actively spreading via movement of the earth's crust. This in water depths of 1600 m in the territorial waters of process has been going on for millions of years and origi- Papua New Guinea in the western Pacific Ocean. nally formed many of the deposits now mined on land, Nautilus's exploration leases total 186,000 sq. km in but it was not until fairly recently that geologists have Papua New Guinea and 90,000 sq. km. spread over Tonga been able to identify where the plates are active and to and Fiji. Neptune Minerals' current main focus is the deploy equipment to investigate the spreading zones fur- Kermadec project off the north coast of New Zealand. Neptune's exploration license areas total 60,000 sq. km. ther. SMS deposits contain valuable concentrations of copMineral rich deposits have been identified in scores of locations around the world, including in the Manus Basin per, zinc, gold, and silver. The market for copper, zinc and off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the Kermadec Ridge gold is increasing as developing nations such as China, India and Vietnam in New Zealand put pressure on other waters, and along sevland-based reserves. eral other fissures Additionally copper is within the Pacific Rim in particular demand of Fire. In these areas for wiring in hybrid fractures in the earth's cars worldwide. crust release streams of According to experts, hydrothermal fluids hybrid cars will that are rich in disrequire 12 kg more solved metals. When copper wiring than these hot fluids hit the non-hybrid cars. cold sea water, metals Deepsea mining of precipitate out of soluSMS is predicted to tion and rain down yield an enormous upon the ocean floor amount of these vital forming mounds and minerals that are chimneys of sulfides being depleted on rich in copper and gold, otherwise The DP Hunter conducting surveys for Nautilus Minerals in waters off shore at alarming rates. known as Seafloor Papua New Guinea. (Photo Credit: Nautilus Minerals) Today most copper Massive Sulphides comes from large (SMS). What is bubbling out of these undersea volcanoes is a unique cocktail open cut mines in places such as the Andes Mountains in South America. According to David Heydon, CEO of of chemicals and minerals. It is the unique mix of what is in those solid undersea Nautilus Minerals, "the copper in these SMS deposits is deposits that is driving two publicly traded companies: 10 times richer than the copper in the Andes. For instance Neptune Minerals of Sydney, Australia and Nautilus for 80 million tons of material in the Andes, you extract Minerals of Vancouver, Canada, to claim large tracts of copper from 20 million tons of ore at about one percent seafloor over and around these smoker sites to mine in the copper along with 60 million ton of waste overburden. not so distant future. If all goes well the first mining of Whereas with deep sea SMS deposits it is estimated that these deposits will occur in 2009 with a brand new ship one must only move two million tons of material at 10 percent copper to yield the same amount from 80 million designed specifically for this purpose. tones of ore and waste from the Andes mine." Also, there is less waste material in the undersea mining The Final Frontier? Nautilus and Neptune are pioneers in the effort to process, which is potentially better for the environment. explore the ocean floor for gold and copper seafloor mas- Land based mining operations often disturb large areas to 24 MTR January 2007
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