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JAMSTEC declares its deep water experiment success

Date Posted: 2012-03-30

An experiment deep under the ocean northwest of Okinawa to create an artificial jet of hydrothermal solution has been declared a success by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth and Technology.

The experiment was begun in “September 2010, when JAMSTEC drilled a 50cm diameter and 45-meter deep hole into the seabed 150 kilometers northwest of Okinawa’s main island. The drilling was 1,000 meters beneath the ocean surface.

Officials say the intent was to make an artificial jet of hydrothermal solution, in order to successfully collect minerals, including rare earth elements. Researcher Ken Takai of JAMSTEC says “this method utilizes hydrothermal solution to create a process where elements settle on collecting equipment from a hole drilled into the seabed. When further developed,” Takai says, “this could lead to an effective method to extract rare earth metals effectively. The experiment’s hydrothermal solution released metals melted by the heat of magma.

The process created a growing metal cylinder around an unattended seabed probe. Takai says the metal cylinder grew to 11 meters high in 16 months, at which time it was retrieved. He says this is much faster than natural morphosis, which takes from several decades to several thousand years to form a cylinder of the same size.

The cylinder, formed by the jet from the artificial hole, contains gold and rare earth metals such as antimony used in semiconductors. These are the same elements, says Takai, that are found around a nearby natural hydrothermal jet.

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