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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Black Smokers and the Red Sea Alternative

What is a Black Smoker?

Black Smokers are a feature of deep oceanic spreading centers that are caused when a hot brine of calcium and sodium chloride permeate the ocean floor that is composed of basalt that is mainly composed of iron and magnesium silicates.  Contained in this mixture are many metals in trace amounts that are leached by the hot brine to come out of the bottom of the sea on mid-oceanic spreading centers as hot springs.  The temperature of the Black Smokers can reach levels of several hundred degrees.  All the Black smoke that seems to arise from one of these natural springs is composed of various metal sulfides as well as some native metals such as gold.  The major metals found around Black Smokers are gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc and molybdenum.
A Black Smoker off the coast of British Columbia.

Because of earth movements over ages of time it is possible that the mineral deposits associated with Black Smokers can become fossilized in what is termed a volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) like the deposit at the Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins, Ontario or a similar ore body near Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec that presently holds the record as the deepest mine in North America.  

The ore is deposited around a Black Smoker in an aura strictly depending on the solubility of the metal sulfides coming from the vents.  The big disadvantage of most Black Smokers is their average depth below the surface.  The average depth of a Black Smoker is around 6,000 meters (>18,000 feet).  The deeper you go into the ocean the more costly it becomes.
A satellite view of the Red Sea. The hot brine pool is just opposite Mecca

The Red Sea Alternative:

At a depth of about 2,000 meters (>6,000 feet) there are pools of mineral laden hot brines possessing enough density so that they pour like syrup, and don’t readily mix with the surrounding water.  At the ocean floor below the hot brine is a thick layer of metal salts that look like a heavy black grease.  It has been estimated that there is perhaps as much as $250 billion worth of metals that could be recovered from this resource not including any Black Smokers found on the seafloor nearby.

For more about the geology of ore deposits please go to 

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