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Miners rush to capitalise on underwater volca -

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Miners rush to capitalise on underwater volcano find

The World Today - Thursday, 19 June , 2008 12:37:00

Reporter: Felicity Ogilvie

ELEANOR HALL: Mining companies are scrambling to work out how to retrieve the riches from two
underwater volcanoes that are spewing smoke laden with valuable metals into the ocean.

The volcanoes were discovered by Australian scientists who were mapping the ocean floor near Fiji.
But while the discovery was unexpected, the volcanoes are hard to miss - they're 50km wide and
almost 4000m tall, and they're releasing smoke containing lead, zinc, copper and gold, as Felicity
Ogilvie reports.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The scientists sailed into the Pacific to map the sea floor near Fiji. What they
found surprised them.

Fred Stein is the director of the CSIRO's research ship, the Southern Surveyor.

FRED STEIN: The purpose of the trip was to investigate the geology of the sea floor between Tonga
and Fiji. Because it's so active the way the tectonic plates are tearing apart, Richard Arculus
from the Australian National University is investigating that geology and serendipitously
discovered these two huge, previously completely unknown volcanoes.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Fred Stein says the team of scientists didn't expect to find a volcano when they
started mapping the ocean floor.

FRED STEIN: The vessel was moving from one research area which was targeted, to another, and the
ship has an instrument called a multi-beam swath mapper on board which creates a three dimensional
image of the sea bed as the ship moves along.

And we never turn the instrument off, we're always trying to get a high resolution data of the
shape of the sea bed, its depth, the bathymetry. And as they were going along they gradually saw
the image of this volcano build up, completely unanticipated.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Then a medical emergency forced the ship to sail in a new direction and geology
professor Richard Arculus found another volcano.

RICHARD ARCULUS: Just by pure chance, one of the engineers had a chronic back problem and it was
decided to take him to Samoa, basically get him off the ship and get him to some other medical
care. And we set off for Samoa and as we sailed east of our target area, we came across another
volcano.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Professor Arculus has named the two volcanoes he's found: Dugong and Lobster. The
volcanoes are 50m wide and rise 4000m from the seabed to within 1000m of the surface.

RICHARD ARCULUS: Well the volcanoes are striking. They're quite remarkable. They, enormous 40km
diameter features with a central dome area. The ones we've seen have a large caldera several
kilometres across dominating the summit. And then tentacles, ridges reaching out in all directions
from that central dome area.

So all the ridges are covered with hundreds and hundreds of individual volcanic domes and cones and
mounds.

FELICITY OGILVIE: There's no pictures or sounds of the volcanoes yet, just pictures from the sonar.
But two years ago a team of American scientists watched another underwater volcano exploding in the
Pacific.

AMERICAN SCIENTIST: Oh wow! I can see rocks that are falling out of the eruption cloud...

FELICITY OGILVIE: CSIRO scientist Fred Stein says the newly discovered volcanoes aren't erupting
but they are active.

FRED STEIN: They've got a variety of levels of activity. They're not actively erupting but they are
actively giving off plumes of hot fluids.

Now these are very highly mineralised fluids, they're not quite water. There have been times in the
past where they've been volcanically active but at the moment it's mainly these black smoker hot
fluids which are pushing up from deep within the earth and leaving very highly concentrated mineral
deposits behind.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The black smoke leaves behind minerals that contain lead, zinc, copper and gold.
Professor Arculus says it's the same process that happened millions of years ago, leaving behind
precious minerals in places like Mount Isa in Broken Hill. He says several exploration companies
want to mine the underwater volcanoes.

RICHARD ARCULUS: A couple of those companies in a joint venture were sponsors of the second part of
our voyage on the national facility - a company called Nautilus and another company in a joint
venture with Nautilus called Teck Cominco, and they're interested in the modern analogues.

They're not only working examples of what is mined from all deposits but also in themselves very,
very high grade in terms of the metals they contain.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Professor Arculus says the companies are already preparing to mine other
underwater volcanoes that have been found near Papua New Guinea.

ELEANOR HALL: Felicity Ogilvie reporting.