Natural Resources Obtained from the Ocean Floor

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  • 0:02 Using the Ocean Floor
  • 0:50 Why Turn to the Ocean…
  • 1:39 Oil and Gas
  • 2:45 Salt and Sand
  • 3:33 Rare Minerals
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Rising prices of oil and gold and increased demand for steel ingredients like cobalt and manganese all point to a resource shortage. So, how do we handle that? Simple - we are beginning to look at the oceans for answers.

Using the Ocean Floor

Humanity has been utilizing the resources provided by bodies of water literally since the beginning of our time on this planet. From using water as a source of food to a source of transportation, it's impossible to understate the importance of this resource to our world.

However, in the past few years, that relationship has begun to change. For centuries, the story was more about what was in the water rather than what was under the water. Yet, as we continue to have a higher and higher demand for natural resources, it is clear that humanity will have to begin to look below the waves for new sources of materials. In this lesson, we'll answer the question of 'Why now?' and take a look at how we are extracting these valuable resources.

Why Turn to the Ocean Floor Now?

Like I said, it's only really been in the last few decades or so that we've started to look underwater for resources. Why is that? Certainly, no resource fairy godmother suddenly waved her wand and made the required materials magically appear. Far from it. Instead, the cost of extracting these materials has finally come down.

Think about it like this. Let's say that the newest smartphone just came out, and you want it. The problem is that it is a thousand bucks! Do you really think you are going to get it? No, chances are you have to wait for the price to come down. That's what has happened with resources under the water - only recently has the price of getting these resources come down far enough to make it viable to extract them. After all, it's pointless to spend more money to get resources than you would make selling them, right?

Oil and Gas

Two hundred years ago, oil and gas were waste products that, when they did naturally occur, were often burned off to the amusement of tourists as sideshows with names like Hell's Gates. In some places, however, natural gas found a more holy use, namely as a source for the eternal flames of Zoroastrians.

Nowadays, it's safe to say that the global economy depends upon the production of both oil and gas, and much of that production is happening on offshore platforms. In fact, it is estimated that as much as 30% of the world's oil comes from offshore platforms, which allow oil and gas drilling to occur over water as opposed to over land.

While every platform is different according to the local geography, the basic theme is still the same. The platform itself provides a base from which drilling can occur. The oil and gas are put into storage tanks, transferred immediately to tankers, or even piped straight to shore. In any event, much of the activity goes on hundreds, or even thousands, of feet under the waves.

Salt and Sand

Offshore platforms are a relatively new way of extracting minerals from the ocean floor. Certain other methods have been around for ages. The most obvious of these is salt mining. Salt is necessary for life, and even early cultures made heavy use of it to preserve meat. Salt used to be very valuable, which made areas with easy access to the stuff very wealthy. That meant that any coastal town worth its salt would have a way to evaporate water from shallow pools to leave only salt behind.

Salt wasn't the only material, however. Sand has long been useful as an ingredient in concrete, going back to the Roman Empire. Additionally, pearls must be extracted from the ocean floor, where they grow inside of oysters. Both of these would be gathered from the seabed.

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