How deep, would you dig, for rare earth elements (REEs)?
The bottom of the ocean? How about, deeper than that?
One company, is taking the plunge, so to speak.
In a new world record, a team of scientists working in Japan has drilled a hole into Earth’s crust approximately 26,322 feet below the ocean’s surface, Nerdist.com reported.
The team of scientists, working as a part of an International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) expedition, were able to best the previous record-holder by about 328 feet.
Mind you, it’s not the distance record everyone’s excited about.
It’s those REEs everybody wants.
Gizmodo reported on the record-breaking hole, which IODP scientists dug in the Pacific Ocean off Japan’s northeast coast.
The achievement marks the first time somebody has broken the previous record in 43 years.
The legendary Drilling Vessel Glomar Challenger (built by none other than billionaire recluse Howard Hughes), set that record in the ’70s.
That ship was involved in a top-secret CIA operation, called Project AZORIAN, a 6-year effort to retrieve a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean floor, one of the greatest intel successes of the Cold War.
And the claw, that snatched the submarine? Her name was Clementine.
To drill the record setting hole, Captain Naoto Kimura of the Research Vessel Kaimei, positioned the ship above the drilling site.
Drill operators then lowered into the ocean a 131-foot-long “Giant Piston Corer” via a winch. The corer then proceeded to drill into the ground, ultimately capturing sediment from 124 feet down.
The Kaimei actually had to lay out a length of cable for the corer that was twice the height of Mt Fuji to attain the record drill depth.
In a blog post, IODP scientists said that the ultra-deep coring operation was very challenging.
But apparently, it was clearly worthwhile. The IODP team now has plenty of core samples to study, and they’ll likely find loads of rare-earth elements.
Speaking of which, JAMSTEC, or the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, is even more excited to find out what’s in the ultra-deep core.
In a video (below), the agency, which owns Kamei and her sister ships, says there’s an enormous amount of REEs in ultra-deep seabeds — particularly ones in Japan’s exclusive economic zone of the ocean, which is the eighth largest in the world.
As for the rare-earth elements? Those include everything from nickel to platinum.
And if that sounds like an exciting prospect for a “gold rush” of sorts, that’s because it is.
With apologies to all the strange sea-life they are coming across, the real treasure is the REEs.
And it’s no surprise, that other scientific ocean vessels are also scouring the seafloor for these elements, which are so important for more than 200 products across a wide range of applications, especially high-tech consumer products, such as cellphones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, and flat-screen monitors and TVs.
Not to mention, state-of-the-art jet fighters, like America’s advanced F-35 stealth aircraft.
The chosen core site in the Japan Trench is very close to the epicentre of the Magnitude 9.1, Tohoku-oki event in 2011, which also produced a tsunami that devastated communities on the nation’s eastern seaboard, and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Prof Michael Strasser, co-expedition leader from the University of Innsbruck, wrote in the project blog: “We greatly acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the captain and his crew to safely carry out such challenging ultra-deep water-coring operations, and look forward to now undertaking scientific analyses on these samples from the deepest of the deep.”
Sources: Matthew Hart at Nerdist.com, Gizmodo, AmericanGeoSciences.org, CIA Factbook, BBC News