By Rob Wesseling and Jeff SchulmanPublished November 16, 2018 11:01:56A couple of years ago, a group of geologists and biologists from California State University, Northridge came to Alaska to study the mineralogy and geology of the Yukon and the Aleutian Islands.
The team had discovered a rare mineral called aluminum oxide ore, which is found in the Aleuts and Yukon.
It’s also known as “a very rare ore” in the United States.
The Yukon is home to the highest concentrations of the mineral in the world.
The scientists were not sure how the ore came to be in the area.
But one thing was certain: it was a rare find.
“The ore was so rare that it’s kind of an exclusive resource,” says John Burt, a geologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage who worked on the project.
And there was just one problem.
Aluminum oxide is a mineral that’s not found in Alaska.
It can be found in many parts of the world, but the amount of aluminum oxide found in Alaskans is not as high as in other countries.
Burt and his team began to look for other ways to get the ore.
The first thought was to use a technique called hydrothermal mining, where geologists blow up rock to create a new deposit.
But it wasn’t feasible.
So they looked to the ocean.
“We thought that the only way we could get aluminum from the ocean was to mine it,” says Burt.
The team first drilled into a large boulder of rock and then began to dig down.
The area they were excavating was about 100 meters below the surface.
Then, they worked their way down the boulder until they came to a large depression in the rock.
In the area below that depression, they found aluminum.
“That’s when we started thinking about ways to extract the ore from the sea floor,” says Kevin Eichelberger, a graduate student in geology at the California Institute of Technology.
Eicherberger and his colleagues went out to look in the same area and found that the ore was coming out of the same deposit.
It was a perfect solution for the scientists.
Eichelber says the first step was to measure the amount and location of the deposits of aluminum ore.
They then used the same techniques that they used to get it from the oceans to determine the amount that was being extracted from the seafloor.
They also drilled a small hole and filled it with water.
“We then used that water to test our theory about how to extract aluminum from these deposits,” says Eicheberger.
After that, the scientists started drilling into the same spot.
“So that was the first time we actually drilled into the seafloors to extract ore,” he says.
Eikler, the first scientist to work with Eicheim, says the idea of extracting aluminum from sea floor deposits is “a little bit scary, but we thought that this was a promising avenue to explore for aluminum.”
The team was able to extract about 1.3 tons of aluminum from one of the three deposits.
And while that’s just a small amount of the ore, the amount was very high compared to the other two deposits.
“This is one of those rare examples of a very rare mineral,” says Wesselings.
“It’s probably one of, if not the, most rare ore minerals out there.”
Wesseling, Eichenberger and their colleagues were able to refine the ore and identify it as a rare one.
In order to get to this rare ore, you would need to find an area that was not being mined.
“If we were to find the exact same spot and drill in the exact exact same place, the quantity of aluminum that we would be extracting would be very small,” says James Cunha, an economist at Stanford University who was not involved in the study.
“There are not that many places in the Earth that you can get these materials, but it’s very rare.”
What do the researchers think the impact of finding the ore will be?
Eichemers and his group have plans to go to Alaska and see how much aluminum is extracted from there.
“In the next few years, we hope to have some good data about the amount we extracted,” he tells me.
“But it’s going to be interesting to see if we can make an estimate of the volume of aluminum we could extract from the Aleud Peninsula.”
In the future, Eisheimer hopes to study how much of the metal is used for energy and what’s left over.
“I’m hoping to do a paper on that,” he explains.
“Then maybe we’ll see how the aluminum we extracted from this region has been used in Alaska.”