Commodities: Is there a threat of a boom in the Arctic?

BGR study on the Arctic raw material potential gives the all-clear - partly

Some rare earth metals in oxidized form © USDA
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The Arctic holds rich mineral resources - from gold and platinum to the coveted rare earth metals for high-tech products. German researchers have now investigated where mining projects could take place in the near future. Their conclusion: Most of the Arctic regions, despite their abundance of resources, are too remote and untapped to make a cut worthwhile. Exceptions exist, however, especially in Siberia, because there is the world's largest occurrence of rare earth metals.

Whether rare earths, precious metals or otherwise: the demand for raw materials is rising steadily. In search of new sources of raw materials, the Arctic has increasingly come under the spotlight of business and politics in recent years. "The Arctic is rich in natural resources and also has significant resources on a world scale, " explains economic geologist Harald Elsner of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR).

The Arctic shares of the traditional mining countries Norway and Sweden have been contributing to Europe's supply of raw materials for decades. In the North American and above all in the Russian Arctic, significant resources are being mined. For example, nickel or platinum group metals from the Norilsk region and from the Kola Peninsula account for about 17 percent and 25 percent respectively of the world production of these metals.


Boom only expected in some regions

BGR researchers have been investigating the potential that the various regions of the Arctic have for the mining of mineral resources. In their study, they now summarize this for different regions. The scientists conclude that the extraction of commodities in the Arctic is unlikely to be profitable in some regions in the near future. In addition, the environmental risks of all mining operations in the Arctic are very high. display

For example, there is much speculation about the potential of Greenland's resources. The giant island belonging to Denmark is particularly rich in gold, platinum, palladium, rare earths, strontium and uranium. At the same time, however, the thick ice sheet and the scarce infrastructure make mining extremely difficult. So far, there was little mining on Greenland, because the high logistical requirements and the associated very high costs prevented this. According to the experts, this will hardly change in the future.

The Russian President Putin among miners in the Siberian Norilsk.

Bonanza Russian Arctic?

The situation is different for Russia: The Russian Arctic is rich in various metals and also diamonds. In addition to platinum group metals, nickel, rare earths, silver, aluminum, mercury and antimony, copper, tin, tungsten, gold and cobalt are also included. Nevertheless, apart from a few exceptions, there is still little degradation, as the researchers explain. There are currently about 20 active mining operations north of the Arctic Circle, and they are concentrated on the Kola Peninsula and in Siberia. However, other areas have so far hardly been developed, so it should not be so easy and timely to reduce them there, according to the experts.

The world's largest rare earth deposit is now also in Siberia, on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Supplies of lanthanum, cerium, neodymium or yttrium are stored here in Tomtor. In addition, this deposit contains more than 73 million tonnes of niobium oxide, another high-tech metal that is still largely from Brazil. The significance of this occurrence is also demonstrated by the recent decision by Russian President Putin to tame this huge deposit.

Also on the rise are the study to Finland and the Canadian Arctic. For only a small part of the numerous deposits to be expected has been explored there, the BGR researchers report. At the same time, however, the relatively good infrastructure and mining experience of these regions could help fuel a boom in resource extraction even faster than the Russian Arctic.

(BGR, 17.01.2014 - NPO)