Today's New York Times, Tuesday, November 9th, has in its section mistakenly labeled "Science Times" a fable entitled "Mining the Seafloor for Rare-Earth Minerals." It leads with the following lovely photograph that could send a rock-hounds heart to arrhythmia.
Please read the article,linked above, before going on with this review.
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In the 1970s the CIA, the central Intelligence Agency, had the private enterprise and Defense contractor, Tenneco, construct 2 very specialized ships, the Glomar Challenger and the Glomar Explorer. These ships were ostensibly built by private industry for exploration and development of techniques to recover "manganese" modules from the deep ocean floor as a source of manganese, nickel, and cobalt, as I recall-its been nearly 40 years so there may have been some other "valuable' metals mentioned, but I honestly don't remember. I do know that rare earths could not have been sought after at the time, because they then had no valuable uses at all.
The true purpose of the two Glomars, it was later revealed, was the recovery of a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine for the purpose of investigating its propulsion, electronics, and weaponry. They, the Glomars, were exotic ships and the first of their types. Once reaching their destinations in the sea they could literally flip from horizontal to vertical operation so as to provide ocean "drilling" platforms fact as it later was revealed they were intended to grapple the sunken submarine and pull it straight up into the ship's hull at which point it could be carefully returned to horizontal operation and could then bring home the recovered submarine, or in the worst case it could remain vertical while brave sailors and spies entered and explored the sub.
I think the results are still classified but I seem to remember that the story was put about that one ship got at least half of the Russian nuclear boat-it seems that the sub broke in half or was already broken in half when raised. I'm sure that if anyone in the Moscow VFW is reading this story they may well ask what our intrepid spies did with or about the remains of the Soviet submariners who sacrificed their lives to Soviet under and over-engineering.
In any case when I was in Alaska last week as a speaker and short-course instructor on rare earths at the Alaska Mining Association annual meeting I had a great conversation with the world's senior and most respected rare earth field geologist, Dr. Anthony Mariano, and coincidentally we touched on the Glomars. He and I were discussing mining the seabed for manganese modules as it happened, and "Tony" pointed out to me that these nodules as he had discovered in the 1970s were very low in rare earths content and that the seabed mining idea seems to have just died in the 1970s due to the crushing economics of the infrastructure for such physical recovery plus the fact that a "metallurgy," which is mining speak for the extraction, separation, and purification of the desired metals had never been satisfactorily worked out. Although we agreed that the metallurgy was do-able, at least to recover the base metals we also concluded that there was no practical reason, just academic reasons, to even continue to look at "manganese" nodules even as "just" a resource for manganese, nickel, or cobalt much less for the rare earths, since all of these metals are available in substantial amounts in accessible locations on dry land..
Those of you who think that I am a wet blanket-excuse the pun-about vacuuming the sea floor for metal mineral rich nodules are free to invest in the stock-market scams and promotions that an article in the "newspaper of record' will soon generate or revive in the Toronto, Vancouver, and Perth venture exchanges. The rest of you should be looking to invest only in those rare earth mining ventures, outside of China, which can produce a profit at the point in the supply chain at which they offer their product for sale.
This dead story about sea-floor "mining" apparently got its 'legs' from the perceived rare earths connection. I think that the Times is too economically challenged to have seen the real story. The real story is China and Japan fighting over the oil and gas that lie beneath the ocean floor. That is the real reason that the Chinese and Japanese are contesting sovereignty on and below the islands in the China sea.
Disclosure: No position