Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No. 325: Plan to build a research vessel to explore rare earthes in the seabed (October 11, 2011)

In 2012, the Japanese government will start to build a research vessel to explore seabed resources like rare earthes in Japan’s home waters with an investment of 22 billion yen. Scheduled for completion in 2016, the research vessel will be equipped with high-precision sensors to operate multiple probes simultaneously and conduct research on the amount of deposit and distribution of resources effectively. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology appropriated 6.8 billion yen in the budget request for 2012. Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science andTechnology (JAMSTEC) will take charge of the operation.

The research vessel will examine the seabed structure using sound waves, and subsequently an autonomous probe will travel in the sea 100-200 m above the seabed and irradiate electromagnetic waves to the seabed to examine the existence of resources. Data will be transmitted to the research vessel in real time. If the data indicate the existence of rare earthes, another probe controllable from the vessel will go down to the seabed to collect samples and take photos. Although JAMSTEC has seven research vessels now, it can operate only one probe in one trip. Because the new research vessel can operate multiple probes simultaneously, it can collect extensive data effectively. Apart from the shipbuilding plan, a research team led by TokyoUniversity announced this summer that it had discovered a huge mineral deposit in the seabed of the Pacific Ocean. Seabed resources attract wide attention as the prices of rare earthes increases and the difficulty to procure them grows.

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