In-situ measurements of rare earth elements in deep sea sediments using nuclear methods
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The prospecting activities for finding new rare earth elements (REE) sources have increased greatly in recent years. One of the main discoveries was announced in 2011 by Japanese researchers who found large quantities of REE on the ocean seafloor at the sea depths greater than 4,000 m. The classic approach to investigate REE in deep sea sediments is to obtain sediment samples by drilling that is followed by laborious laboratory analysis. This is very expensive, time consuming and not appropriate for exploring vast areas. In order to efficiently explore the ocean floor for REE deposits, the further development of affordable sensors is needed. Here, we propose two nuclear techniques for exploring REE in surface deep sea sediments: i) Passive measurement of lutetium-176 radioactivity, appropriate if long-term in-situ measurements are possible, and ii) The use of the neutron sensor attached to a remotely operated vehicle for rapid in-situ measurement of gadolinium by thermal neutron-capture. Since concentrations of lutetium and gadolinium show strong linear correlation to the total REE concentrations in deep sea sediments, it is possible to deduce the total REE content by measuring Lu or Gd concentrations only.