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18-14. Geology and global context of deep-ocean marine minerals


Closing Date: January 6, 2020

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.


Marine minerals occur in every ocean basin, on both continental and oceanic crust; some are currently forming today, and some began forming 70 million years ago. The most well-known deposits are ferromanganese crusts and nodules (Hein and Koschinsky, 2014) composed mainly of iron and manganese oxides that accumulate trace metals sourced from seawater and porewaters over millions of years, and hydrothermal deposits composed mainly of sulfide minerals (Gartman et al., 2014) that accumulate over thousands of years at tectonic boundaries. These deposits exhibit significant variability in extent and element composition across both timescales of formation, as well as spatially on local and global scales (e.g., Petersen et al., 2016). In addition to ferromanganese nodules, crusts, and sulfide minerals, other marine minerals that have generated interest include phosphorite deposits (Altschuler, 1980), found in open-ocean environments and continental margins, and rare-earth element rich marine muds (e.g. Takaya et al., 2018) that may form from a variety of processes in the deep ocean. 

Interest in marine minerals, including critical marine minerals (defined by Executive Order 13817) is increasing globally from governmental, private industry, and research entities.

As well as containing elements that may be economically valuable or critical to societal needs, these minerals may be used to study the paleo oceanographic conditions that influenced their formation (Koschinsky and Hein, 2017), or provide insight into the formation of ancient marine mineral deposits now emplaced on land such as Volcanogenic Massive Sulfide (VMS) deposits. The deep-oceans are difficult to access and many challenges remain for this research, including deposit mapping and characterization, and the development of technology for oceanographic mineral exploration. Our recent work has addressed crust, nodules, and sulfide mineral formation, composition, and extent, in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, as well as processes of dissolution and potential consequences of extraction.

We seek a postdoctoral scholar who can make a fundamental contribution to marine mineral research. Proposed work may use either archival samples (extensive USGS and other sample sets exist), or propose the collection of new samples, if feasible. Proposed work may focus in any of the following areas: (1) the technology used in, or environmental consequences of, marine mineral extraction, (2) targeted speciation and extractability studies of marine critical minerals, (3) estimates of marine minerals within the context of global mineral resources (including terrestrial minerals), (4) statistical analyses of existing marine mineral datasets, or (5) developing geophysical techniques to detect or study marine minerals from ship-based platforms.  In particular, we welcome applications that cross disciplinary boundaries between marine science and geology, and applications that focus on the distribution, extent, or relevance of critical minerals in marine mineral deposits. Applicants with broad backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.


Hein, J.R. Konstantinova N., Mikesell M., Mizell K., Fitzsimmons J., Lam P., Jensen L., Yang X., Gartman A., Cherkashov G., Hutchinson D.R. Till, C.P. Western Arctic deep-water ferromanganese-oxide deposits reflect the unique characteristics of the Arctic Ocean. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 10.1002/2017GC007186

Gartman, A., Hannington, M., Jamieson, J.W., Peterkin, B., Garbe-Schönberg, D., Findlay, A.J., Fuchs, S., and Kwasnitschka, T. Boiling-induced formation of colloidal gold in black smoker hydrothermal fluids. Geology 46,1, 39-42  

Hayes, S.M., McCullough, E.A., 2018. Critical minerals: A review of elemental trends in comprehensive criticality studies. Resources Policy. 59, 192-199.

Nassar, N.T., Graedel, T.E., and Harper E.M. 2015. By-product metals are technologically essential but have problematic supply. Scientific Advances. 1, (3)

Petersen, S., Krätschell, A., Augustin, N., Jamieson, J., Hein, J.R., Hannington, M.D. 2016. News from the seabed – Geological characteristics and resource potential of deep-sea mineral resources. Marine Policy. 70; 175-187

Gartman, A., and Hein, J.R. 2019. Mineralization at Oceanic Transform Faults and Fracture Zones. 105-118. In Transform Plate Boundaries and Fracture Zones, Elsevier doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-812064-4.00005-0

Takaya et al., 2018. The tremendous potential of deep-sea mud as a source of rare-earth elements. Nature Scientific Reports, 8: 5763

Koschinsky A., and Hein, J.R., 2017. Marine Ferromanganese Encrustations: Archives of Changing Oceans Elements. 13; 177-182

Proposed Duty Station: Santa Cruz, CA

Areas of PhD: Geology, earth science, marine geology, oceanography or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for: Research Geologist, Research Oceanographer, Research Geophysicist.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact: Audrey Tsujita, 916-278-9395,