November 13, 2019 Feature

Seafloor Massive Sulfides Mining

Andrew C. Lillie

On the lightless bottom of the Western Pacific Ocean, tiny volcanoes jet extraordinarily hot fluids into icy water. These “smokers,” as geologists coined them, emerge from hydrothermal vents, and are either “white” or “black” depending on the chemicals they emit. Some pour rumbling, acrobatic clouds of metals such as copper, zinc, and gold, combined with sulfur, into the heavy seawater. Fine particles of metal sulfides then precipitate, or fall out, forming “chimneys” of intricate geometries on the seabed. These can be three meters tall and evoke images of stalagmites on a cavern floor.

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