The secret on the ocean floor

Posted: February 21, 2018 by oldbrew in exploration, government, History, innovation

Hughes Glomar Explorer at Long Beach, California (1976) [image credit: TedQuackenbush @ Wikipedia]

One mining forecast claims ‘an emerging undersea industry in oceans around the world could be worth $30bn a year by 2030.’ Do the origins of this go back to the Cold War?

Did a 1970s CIA plot spark a boom in deep sea mining? – asks BBC News.

In the summer of 1974, a large and highly unusual ship set sail from Long Beach in California.

It was heading for the middle of the Pacific where its owners boasted it would herald a revolutionary new industry beneath the waves.

Equipped with a towering rig and the latest in drilling gear, the vessel was designed to reach down through the deep, dark waters to a source of incredible wealth lying on the ocean floor.

It was billed as the boldest step so far in a long-held dream of opening a new frontier in mining, one that would see valuable metals extracted from the rocks of the seabed.

But amid all the excited public relations, there was one small hitch – the whole expedition was a lie.

This was a Cold War deception on a staggering scale, but one which also left a legacy that has profound implications nearly half a century later.

The real target of the crew on board this giant ship was a lost Soviet submarine. Six years earlier, the K-129 had sunk 1,500 miles north-west of Hawaii while carrying ballistic nuclear missiles.

The Russians failed to find their sub despite a massive search, but an American network of underwater listening posts had detected the noise of an explosion that eventually led US teams to the wreck.

It was lying three miles down, deeper than any previous salvage operation. The weapons and top-secret code books were surely beyond reach.

But in the struggle for military advantage, the sub represented the crown jewels – a chance to explore Moscow’s nuclear missiles and to break into its naval communications.

So the CIA hatched an audacious plan, Project Azorian, to retrieve the submarine.

Full story here.
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Seabed Mining: The 30 People Who Could Decide the Fate of the Deep Ocean

  1. oldbrew says:

    From the report:
    With cobalt, it’s estimated that by 2025 Volkswagen will need one-third of the current entire global supply for its electric cars.

    Massive new battery factories are being constructed – like Tesla owner Elon Musk’s famous Gigafactory – and they too will be hungry for cobalt.

    Bram Murton, a geologist with the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, says that if all the cars on Europe’s roads are electric by 2040, and if they use the same kind of batteries as the Tesla Model 3, that would require 28 times more cobalt than is produced right now.
    – – –
    One British firm, UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the US defence giant Lockheed Martin, has secured exploration rights to an area larger than the entire UK.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    Ah yes, the old “Running Out!” and “Minerals Shortage!!” canards attempt to take wing again.

    Things that ignores (that make it always a “polite lie” at best):

    The amount of “reserves” is price dependent. Raise price a little, you get a LOT more reserves. This is in the definition of “reserves”. Rarely is that discussed and substantially never in a Running Out Scare!! article. Even then, the particular type of “resource” being turned into “reserves” matters.

    Resource substitution. We tend to use the best cheap enough mineral or other resource first. As price for it rises (or just cost competition hits) folks shift to alternative resources. Copper long distance power lines replaced with aluminum. Chrome heavy cars now sleek plastic finishes (that can be ‘chrome’ look if desired, but without all the chrome…) In batteries, there are perfectly fine lithium batteries that do not use cobalt. Similarly, there are potassium and sodium batteries that do not use lithium. IFF there is ever enough “scarcity” to matter, folks will just shift battery chemistry.

    Technology changes. The mining and refining technology marches on and lets us use ever more thin ore at ever lower costs. Manufacturing finds ways to reduce the amount used for any expensive mineral. We now use zeolites (a kind of either natural or synthetic rock) instead of Platinum in many catalysts as one example. Synthetic ruby is now dirt cheap and synthetic diamonds have made diamond coated tools relatively cheap. My kitchen knives are now made of ceramic instead of stainless steel – a better knife and not needing chrome, nickle, or other special steels.

    There is no such place as “away”. “Used” copper does not leave the planet. “Consumed” lithium is still here. We now process old mine tailings (that were too low grade to use) as a source of minerals; thanks to new methods. Similarly we can “mine” old garbage dumps. In the ultimate case, the elements end up in sea water. We can recover 100% of global energy demand via Uranium from sea water today using plastic mats with selective ion absorption. AND at prices that are quite low enough to make cheap energy. It’s just a little cheaper to use land based ores – for now. With a slight price rise, U “reserves” become functionally infinite.

    Similarly, we could mine lithium from sea water too. A recent step forward on that is quite impressive.

    Any time anyone says we are going to run out of some mineral resource, ask them about those things. It is almost always a case of hyping the fear of Running Out!!! We are even at the place were we can make (and have made!) gasoline and Diesel fuel from our garbage. Price of the fuel lower than European pump prices (laden with tax) but a bit higher (like $1 / gallon or so) than US pump prices. Quite livable IFF we ever needed to do it. (A demonstrator plant has been built and run). So even resources that are “consumed” by chemical conversions (burning) are in fact replaceable.

    Do not ever let folks sell you the “Running Out!!! Scare”.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Anything costing $81,500 a tonne is unlikely to be easily found in large quantities…

    Cobalt prices soar, but Congo’s small miners see little of the gain
    February 22, 2018

    In global markets the price of cobalt, a mineral used in batteries for high-tech products from iPhones to Tesla electric cars, has nearly tripled to $81,500 a tonne in two years.

    But in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produced two-thirds of the global supply of the coveted metal last year, artisanal diggers called “creuseurs” sell their best-quality ore for about $7,000 a tonne, blissfully unaware of how much the global price has rocketed.

    Read more at:

    Might push up the price of electric cars.

  4. konradwp1 says:

    The building of Glomar Explorer and “the claw” is covered best in a documentary by film maker Michael White, previously entitled “Project Azorian”.

    Search for “Azorian: the raising of K-129”. Well worth watching.

    The plot is crazier than any Bond movie, yet it all happened for real. A lost Russian submarine? A fake deep sea mining operation? A crazed millionaire? Hundreds of millions in CIA black money? Lockeed Martin attaching an underwater maneuvering claw to the bottom of Glomar Explorer in a secret dock? A burial at sea of 6 Russian sailors where all the burial party are wearing radiation suits?

    Yes, for real. It all happened. Crazy times.

  5. konradwp1 says:

    You could watch it for free:
    But I bought the documentary. So should you.
    $1.00? How hard is that?

  6. oldbrew says:

    Also been on PBS America for a few years now (via Freeview, Freesat or pay TV in the UK)