Science Center Objects

The seafloor contains deposits of minerals that we we use in everyday life such as copper, zinc, nickel, gold, silver, and phosphorus. These deposits occur as crusts on volcanic and other rocks and as nodules on abyssal plain sediment that are typically about 3 to 10 centimeters (1 to 4 inches) in diameter.

Up-close view of a hard, dark, lumpy, and rocky mineral surface.

Surface texture of a ferromanganese crust form Necker Ridge in the central Pacific. Credit: Amy West, USGS Science Communications Contractor

Lumpy but round rock has been broken open and inside is a bright center surrounded by dark.

A manganese nodule from the Cook Islands EEZ. Credit: Jim Hein, USGS

The seafloor contains deposits of minerals that we use in everyday life such as copper, zinc, nickel, gold, silver, and phosphorus. These deposits occur as crusts on volcanic and other rocks and as nodules on abyssal plain sediment that are typically about 3 to 10 centimeters (1 to 4 inches) in diameter.

Flat ocean floor made up of nodules packed in tightly.

A bed of manganese nodules from deep offshore of the Cook Islands.

Mostly beige rock with lots of round orbs contained within its matrix.

Phosphorite rock formed on the seafloor offshore Southern California. Credit: Amy West, USGS Science Communications Contractor

Many nodules that are rich in manganese, nickel, copper, and cobalt are particularly widespread in the deep basins of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Crusts that mainly contain iron and manganese can also have significant concentrations of cobalt, rare earth elements, nickel, tellurium, and platinum; they are found on seamounts (extinct submarine volcanoes that are found throughout the ocean) and other seafloor promontories. Muds that contain rare earth elements—widely used in consumer electronics such as smart phones and green technologies such as wind turbines and hybrid and electric cars—are found in the deep ocean. These muds are a relatively new discovery. Phosphorites, which occur in the ocean as crusts or nodules, are a critical source of phosphate for fertilizer and are also being evaluated as a potential source for rare earth elements.

The U.S. government, international and nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders depend on CMHRP expertise to characterize and assess seafloor mineral deposits and to evaluate the environmental impact of mining techniques. International collaborations will continue to play a critical role in providing the CMHRP with access to ships and samples, particularly in remote areas of the Pacific Ocean.

Very crusty rock with tan outer layer, gray core, and bright yellow center. Man's booted foot is in background.

Cross section of a hydrothermal vent chimney from East Diamante Caldera in the Mariana volcanic arc, west Pacific Ocean, collected during a 2010 research cruise. Most of the sample is zinc sulfide. Silica lines the conduit through which the water flowed; a trace of iron imparts the yellow color. Credit: Jim Hein, USGS

Three photographs, Apple iPhone, turbines in green meadow, and Toyota Prius labeled with all the rare metals used in it.

Countries around the world need metals and minerals to satisfy burgeoning demands for technology and electronics. Even green technologies, such as cell phones, wind turbines, and electric cars, require large quantities of rare and expensive metals.

Because offshore resources could provide greater self-sufficiency for U.S. industries, the CMHRP will continue to upgrade its seafloor minerals database and evaluate developments in offshore mining practices that may become relevant if supplies of critical metals or rare earth elements were to be disrupted. For more information on seafloor mineral deposits, visit the USGS Global Ocean Mineral Resources project site.

Rocks growing like pointy chimneys out of the ocean floor are emitting smoke into deep ocean water.

Between Tonga and Samoa in the western Pacific at nearly 1200 meters (approximately 4000 feet) water depth sits Niua seafloor volcano. Black smokers on this volcano spew out super-heated water containing dissolved minerals. When these hydrothermal fluids hit the near-freezing seawater, minerals precipitate and form tall chimneys. Photograph courtesy of Schmidt Ocean Institute, ROV ROPOS