The seabed of the Pacific ocean contains 1,000 times as much tonnage of rare earth elements as all the deposits on land, says a new paper published in Nature Geoscience. The elements, which are key to cleantech innovations like solar panels, batteries and electric motors, have been in short supply lately as China, pretty much the world's sole supplier, clamps down on exports.
The bad news is that getting at these deposits could involve destroying delicate ecosystems that until now have been protected from our depredations by 2-3 miles of water. It's also not clear that we're desperate enough (yet) to establish this kind of undersea mining instead of simply opening up more mines on land.
When asked whether or not this kind of mining would be commercially viable, the author of the paper gave the reporter a funny look and said “I’m a geoscientist, not an economist." No really, that's what he actually said. (We’re guessing about the funny look.)