A British National Oceanographic expedition discovered an underwater rare earth deposit in the Atlantic, 500km from the Canary Islands, which is “astonishingly rich” in the substance called Tellurium.
The BBC reports that the underwater tellurium deposit is found in concentrations 50,000 times higher than in deposits on land. The metal is used for the construction of wind turbines, solar panels, and electronic appliances.
The question on whether to mine the 3,000-meter underwater mountain known as Tropic Seamount raises environmental concerns. Although the “treasure trove” is 1,000 meters under the surface, mining of this valuable resource is technologically possible through the use of robotic submarines. The deposit could contain 2,670 tons of tellurium or 5% of the global reserves.
On land, Tellurium is found in combination with gold, silver, copper, lead or nickel in various minerals. That means that mining could yield many more metals.
Because the metal is used in the production of renewables, the cost-benefit analysis for the environment has begun. Mining has an environmental impact both on land and underwater, but the argument goes that when it comes to the extraction of richer ores, a smaller area needs to be covered. As on earth mining, the primary concern is stirred dust, harming marine life in the region.
In the deep sea, the concern is mainly about single-celled organisms called xenophyophores, who play a significant role in the food chain by forming hard shell-like structures that resemble miniature coral reefs-habitats. The biodiversity of such environments is often compared to rainforests. Thus far, the argument is that the impact will be localized.
Europe is one of the richest continents in the production of Tellurium, with the biggest production being in Belgium. Tellurium is also produced in Germany, Sweden, and Finland. The U.K is not a Tellurium producer, but a single discovery could place it on the map.