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Prestigious fellowship awarded to NZ marine geologist to study seafloor minerals - 13/03/2018

Marine geologist Christian Timm, of GNS Science, has been awarded a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellowship from the European Commission to study the evolution of metallic minerals on the seafloor in the Kermadec Arc.

Dr Christian Timm

Dr Christian Timm

Dr Timm will spend 12 months focusing on the origin of seafloor deposits of gold and other strategic metals at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.     

“As green technologies become increasingly important, the world is starting to look to the oceans to secure supplies of strategic metals,” Dr Timm said.

“This project will provide a clearer picture of the sub-seafloor environments that lead to the formation of precious metals on the seafloor. Ultimately it will help to lower the barriers to harvesting strategic metals from the seafloor.”

The 2500 km-long Tonga-Kermadec Arc, home to 70-plus seafloor volcanoes, is known to be an area where high-grade metallic minerals concentrate on the seafloor. For the past 20 years, scientists have been gathering information on the seafloor mineralization in the area but there is still a lot to learn. 

    

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I’ll be using state-of-the-art analytical equipment to measure ultra-low concentrations - parts per billion - of metals in the volcanic rocks. The valuable information obtained from this will help to paint a fuller picture of the life cycle of strategic metals from their origins inside a subducting tectonic plate to their arrival on the seafloor.

Dr Christian Timm

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“We still don’t know much about the origin of these metallic minerals in the subduction factory and the pathways they take to reach the seafloor.”

The GEOMAR facility, with a staff of nearly 1000, will give Dr Timm access to some of the best geoscience laboratory facilities in Europe and a large team of experienced researchers.

When he starts the Fellowship later this year, he will take a selection of rock samples that have been collected from a 1300km stretch of the Kermadec Arc between White Island and Monowai Volcano, over the past 20 years.

Samples will be mostly volcanic glass – a vitreous rock that forms on or near the seafloor when rising magma cools suddenly as it comes into contact with seawater. 

“I’ll be using state-of-the-art analytical equipment to measure ultra-low concentrations - parts per billion - of metals in the volcanic rocks. The valuable information obtained from this will help to paint a fuller picture of the life cycle of strategic metals from their origins inside a subducting tectonic plate to their arrival on the seafloor.”

Results from the project will be made available through peer-reviewed science publications, conferences, and news articles in the mainstream media.

A remotely operated vehicle collects volcanic rock samples from a seafloor volcano in the Lau Basin in northern Tonga during a research voyage in 2017 – Photo -  Schmidt Ocean Institute, California, USA

A remotely operated vehicle collects volcanic rock samples from a seafloor volcano in the Lau Basin in northern Tonga during a research voyage in 2017 – Photo - Schmidt Ocean Institute, California, USA