CSIRO points the way to seafloor riches


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The historic announcement of a new seafloor minerals initiative by mining company Placer Dome after it reached an agreement with Nautilus Minerals on its PNG tenements, is the next logical step in a chain of events that began with a mammoth research effort over almost 20 years by CSIRO Exploration & Mining.

CSIRO conducted more than 20 expeditions to largely unexplored areas of the southwest Pacific Ocean to discover and investigate sites where mineral deposits are forming today. These expeditions covered areas where the Earth's tectonic plates are converging and studied new hydrothermal mineral deposits associated with hot springs on the sea floor.

The original intention of CSIRO's research was to investigate how large mineral deposits like Broken Hill were formed millions of years ago. The southwest Pacific Ocean floor provides the most relevant modern analogue of ore formation for the mineral exploration industry, and it was considered that an understanding of the mechanisms of ore formation would be invaluable when developing exploration strategies for new ore bodies on the Australian mainland.

The research has since led to important new concepts regarding the formation of mineral deposits rich in copper, gold, zinc and silver which have been extremely valuable to mineral explorers.

Importantly, the expeditions also uncovered surprisingly rich deposits on the seafloor which were subsequently pegged by the Australian-managed company, Nautilus Minerals Limited. This has led to Placer Dome's new initiative and the possible utilisation of an exciting and valuable new resource close to Australia.

Ongoing research efforts by CSIRO in this frontier field of innovative exploration and mining of seafloor resources and the development of automated seafloor technologies are planned. Opportunities are being explored to include these activities within CSIRO's new Wealth from Oceans Flagship program.

CSIRO Exploration and Mining is looking forward to continued collaboration with Nautilus Minerals and Placer Dome on certain aspects of mineralogical and environmental work in this early stage of seafloor exploration. In particular, Placer and Nautilus are proposing to utilise the significant amount of biological data that CSIRO has acquired to enable a better understanding of the unusual eco-systems that exist around the active hot spring deposits and the possible impacts that may result from future work.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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