|South African 'Gold Rush' Nugget Mounted on a Gold Bar Brooch and a piece|
At a first glance, the Witwatersrand basin, the largest known gold resource on our planet, is not automatically related to ocean research. However, in its 3 billion years old geological history, the Witwatersrand basin in South Africa has been covered by seawater, but experienced also episodes of drying out, flooding and erosion by rivers and the repeated coverage by seawater.
In 1852, the English prospector J.H. Davis discovered the first gold in the Witwatersrand, leading to the South African gold rush and the discovery of much more gold deposits within the basin. Although the Witwatersrand has been subject for decades of research, the genesis of gold and uranium ore is still unclear.
A group of scientists from Canada and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre of Ocean Research Kiel, successfully unravelled some mechanisms of the ore-forming process using complex analytical techniques. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Precambrian Research.
Using high-resolution imaging techniques, the researchers were able to visualize a to date unknown ore-forming process, in which migrating oil plays the dominant role in the distribution and concentration of metals. "With our method we have been able to show remnants of fossil oil entrapped in gold for the very first time" says Dr. Sebastian Fuchs.
"We are surprised to see such an intimate spatial relationship between the oil products and the metals," reports Dr. Fuchs. "We hope that our study gives new impulses to industry and science to explore new mineral deposits. Perhaps it is possible at some day to extract gold and other metals from mined crude oil."
With the methods used, it is now possible to study not only ore particles on the ocean floor in the range of millimetre to nanometre, but also the smallest fossils and living organisms, such as micro-organisms. "We are curious about what else we might discover on the ocean floor in the future," Fuchs concludes.
The above story is based Materials provided by Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR).