An official website of the United States government. Here's how you knowHere's how you know
Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.
Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.
Latest Earthquake | Chat Share
Researching mineral resources that occur within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and areas beyond national jurisdictions.
The Global Marine Mineral Resources project researches deep ocean minerals within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and throughout the Earth’s oceans. Our research concerns the setting, genesis, and metal enrichment processes of mineral deposits, the relationship between marine minerals related and deep-sea biota, and the potential geochemical footprint of any seafloor mining. We aim to provide stakeholders with the best available science regarding potential resources and environmental impacts associated with accessing those resources.
Project objectives include:
Our findings inform stakeholders, including the public, government, industry, academics and NGOs, about mineral wealth and its environmental setting within the vast offshore territory of the U.S. and helps them determine which regions and deposits may warrant further research.
There are a wide variety of deep-sea mineral categories; however, our team focuses on those marine mineral categories that have the greatest resource potential.
Seafloor pavements and encrusted rocks are known as ferromanganese crusts (also called cobalt-rich crusts). These crusts grow very slowly, at several millimeters per million years, and precipitate onto exposed rock surfaces throughout the global ocean—they do not form where sediment blankets the seafloor. In the oldest parts of the seafloor in the northwest Pacific Ocean, some crusts have been forming for over 70 million years and can be over 20 centimeters thick. Crusts act as a sponge of sorts, adsorbing metals and other elements from seawater over these long periods of time, and are especially enriched in cobalt, manganese, rare metals such as tellurium, precious metals such as platinum, and rare earth elements.
Over millions of years, spheroidal rocks called manganese nodules (or polymetallic nodules) form atop sediment covering the abyssal plains of the global ocean. These nodules form by the accretion of iron and manganese oxides around a tiny nucleus, such as a large grain of sand, a shark tooth, or older nodule fragment. Manganese nodules are usually golf-ball to baseball size and grow very slowly like ferromanganese crusts if they acquire all their metals directly from seawater, or they grow faster if they also acquire their metals from the pore-waters of the sediment on which they sit. Nodules are currently of great interest for mining due to high concentrations of manganese, nickel, copper, and sometimes lithium, as well as the straightforward nature of quantifying their distribution and density.
Seafloor massive sulfides (also called polymetallic sulfides) form at hydrothermal vents when seawater penetrates the ocean’s crust and becomes heated and chemically modified through interaction with crustal rocks and, sometimes, by input of magmatic fluids. The hot hydrothermal fluids then rise back toward the seafloor and precipitate minerals as they cool along flow paths and upon mixing with seawater. A wide variety of minerals form through hydrothermal activity, but seafloor massive sulfides are formed from reduced sulfur and may be enriched in copper, zinc, iron, gold, and silver. Hydrothermal vents exist along mid-ocean ridge spreading centers, extensional systems associated with subduction zones, volcanoes, and intraplate hotspots. Yet, seafloor massive sulfides likely extend beyond these active hydrothermal zones. We know the minerals persist after removal from the heat source because of the presence of volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits on land.
Marine phosphorites primarily occur along continental margins where upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich, deep water is strong. These areas include the Peru-Chile margin, on plateaus such as Chatham Rise offshore New Zealand, and the Blake-Bahamas Plateau off the southeast United States; but they can also form on seamounts where ferromanganese crusts grow. Phosphorites form when abundant phosphate in seawater replaces carbonate in calcareous sediments or precipitates in situ as apatite to form hardgrounds, phosphatic nodules, or cements in breccias of multiple rock types. Marine phosphorites are sources of phosphate used as fertilizer for agriculture and phosphoric acid in the food industry. Phosphorites can also contain high concentrations of valuable, heavy, rare earth elements that may be economically recoverable and can contain up to 4% fluorine.
The oceans cover nearly three quarters of the surface of the earth, and in the U.S., the area of seafloor comprising the Exclusive Economic Zone is greater than the land area on shore. This enormous ocean realm hosts many types of minerals that differ from those occurring terrestrially. Ferromanganese crusts, manganese nodules, phosphorites, and hydrothermal vent deposits, which occur from the Arctic to the Antarctic, are enriched in many metals including those currently deemed societally critical. It is therefore important to understand these minerals and the role they may play as future mineral resources.
People around the world demand metals and mineral resources for many uses, including technology, electronics, and green energy infrastructure such as wind turbines and electric cars. Critical minerals are defined as those that are essential to the economic and national security of a nation but that have a supply-chain vulnerable to disruption. In 2018, the Department of the Interior released a list of 54 critical minerals that was further refined to 35 based on Executive Order 13817, with the list to be reconsidered biannually. Across the USGS, research is underway to define and prioritize focus areas throughout the United States with resource potential for these 35 critical minerals. The Global Marine Mineral Resources project specifically informs the marine component.
To date, there is no mining of deep-sea minerals. In Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, any marine mining is governed by the International Seabed Authority, which is currently drafting exploitation regulations. The Global Marine Mineral Resources project has provided scientific advice to the U.S. State Department and has served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Seabed Authority as an Observer Nation for the last 20 years. Japan completed equipment testing offshore of Okinawa in the fall of 2017, recovering 4 tons of metal sulfide. For comparison, it has been suggested that an economic seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) mine would recover on the order of 1 million tons of metal sulfide minerals. There is one permitted mine for copper, gold, and silver offshore Papua New Guinea, on 0.1 square kilometer of seafloor; and the Cook Islands are revising regulations for manganese nodules mining.
Below are other studies related to this project.
Below are data or web applications associated with this project.
Below are multimedia items associated with this project.
Below are publications associated with this project.
Below are news stories associated with this project.
The U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Hazards and Resources Program is seeking candidates for several Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research...
USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center researcher Kira Mizell talks about the discovery of a ferromanganese nodule field on a seamount deep in...
At 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Wednesday, July 14, you are invited to join a live event introducing the 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England...
For centuries, people have crossed oceans in search of valuable minerals. In recent times, though, increasing attention has been paid to the oceans...
First detailed, large-scale study of parameters that control ferromanganese crust composition on seamounts in the west-central Pacific Ocean
USGS oceanographer Amy Gartman and team seek to understand how and where mineral-rich deposits form in the ocean, and what effects mining them could...
Oceanographer Amy Gartman joined two members of the U.S. State Department at the 24th session of the International Seabed Authority, the organization...
USGS scientists focused on finding iron-manganese crusts, whose chemistry reveals how the ocean has changed throughout millennia. The crusts also...
USGS scientists James Hein and Kira Mizell participated in a University of São Paulo research cruise to the western Rio Grande Rise, an underwater...
For the first time, scientists have found gold particles in boiling fluids from a hydrothermal vent.