If you thought that prospecting for gold 2km under the ocean was extreme, a team of geologists from the University of Utah’s Energy and Geoscience Institute found significant reserves of gold and silver in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone after five years researching the area.
According to their work published in Geothermics, the team was studying the geothermal systems of the area by collecting water samples from up to 1.8 miles beneath the earth’s crust. After analyzing the samples to determine the concentration of aqueous precious metals, they estimate that the area could contain “tens of thousands of ounces [of gold] and hundreds of thousands of ounces [of silver].”
Their reasoning for how the gold got there is extremely similar to the way earthquakes can create deposits of gold. Underground water is super-heated by local magma flows, which creates acidic reservoirs and springs that dissolve the surrounding rock. Since it’s so resistant to heat and acid, gold particles are unaffected and collect in the water.
Unfortunately, there’s no commercially viable way to mine the gold when you consider the following:
- The mining equipment would need to be able to withstand acidic environments and temperatures exceeding 700°F.
- The environmental impacts of a large mining operation in a volcanic area could be drastic.
- The wells where water samples were collected are equipped with turbines to use the steam to generate electricity – mining these areas would disrupt or disable the grid.
Even though mining viability was not the purpose of their work, the research team did suggest that the precious metals could be extracted from the water as it passes through the utilities on the surface. They may be on to something there – if it could work for collecting gold from sewers, why not steam vents?