Japanese scientists have discovered mammoth deposits of rare earth minerals—essential in the manufacture of many high-tech devices—at the depths of the Pacific Ocean, reports Reuters. The find could transform the international market for these vital materials. Discovered as deep as 20,000 feet at 78 locations, particularly around Hawaii and Tahiti, the researchers estimate the size of these deposits could be as much as 100 billion tons. Currently, just 110 million tons of rare earth minerals are known to exist, mostly in China, but soaring prices have countries like Japan desperate for alternatives.
"The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earth" minerals, said one of the researchers. Just 0.4 square mile of deposits "would be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption," he noted. These Pacific deposits are said to contain only small amounts of dangerous elements, like uranium, but are rich in important minerals like gadolinium, lutetium, terbium, and dysprosium, essential for such high-tech products as hybrid cars, flat-screen TVs, and LED valves. Access to these deep-water muds is actually simple, researchers said, although they did not estimate when mining might begin. (Read more mining stories.)