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I attended the American Geological Union (AGU) Fall Meeting this week in San Francisco.
It’s billed as “the largest worldwide conference in geophysical science,” with over 20,000 attendants. There was a vast number of talks on the cryosphere, which I’ll try to cover over the next few days. One session I attended, “Frontier Science from Extended Continental Shelf Studies,” included talks presenting the results of ocean-going expeditions by countries such as Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and the U.S. While most of these cruises’ priorities were to map the continental shelf, they generated many side benefits in the form of new scientific discoveries. In effect, on these cruises, geopolitics was fueling geoscience.
A couple of talks pertained to the Arctic Ocean. Dr. James Hein, a senior scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and adjunct professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, presented the talk, “Critical Metals in Western Arctic Ocean Ferromanganese Mineral Deposits.”
Findings from USCGC Healy
He discussed the findings from cruises of the USCGC Healy in 2008, 2009, and 2012, which were intended to jointly map the continental shelf with the Canadians. Scientists collected ferromanganese crusts and nodules and found that the Arctic Ocean notably differed in chemical composition from other oceans. The results regarding the presence of ferromanganese was not terribly exciting, nor were the findings specific to cobalt, copper, nickel (whose extraction has the potential to generate rare earth element byproducts) and rare earths as a whole – all of which were higher in other oceans.
Aircraft industry interested in scandium
Scientists did, however, discover that the crusts and nodules they collected were the only ones from the global ocean enriched in scandium (Sc). Scandium is a silvery-white metal that is sometimes classified as a rare earth element, and it is often found near other rare earth elements and uranium. At present, there are reportedly no active scandium mines, as the Zhovti Vody mine in Ukraine was flooded years ago . Instead, scandium is generally produced as a byproduct from uranium mining in places like Kazakhstan and mine tailings throughout the former USSR, which used the element for military purposes.
Commercially, the aircraft industry is interested in scandium, as it is similar to titanium, the metal out of which most airplane bodies are constructed. Scandium has a high melting point and is resistant to corrosion like titanium, but it is significantly lighter. Scandium can also be used in manufacturing reinforced aluminum alloys (scandium-reinforced aluminum)  and in x-ray tubes.
$15 million per ton in 2013
Trade in scandium is extremely small in volume, as only about 5,000 kilograms a year are used. Yet the amount of money exchanged for such a small quantity is stunning, as scandium fetched $15 million per ton in 2013.
The International Seabed Authority grants deep-sea mining leases for areas outside of exclusive economic zones. Most of these leases have been made in the Pacific, specifically in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. The New York Times has a useful map from 2012 of deep sea mining activities. Given the shortage of rare earth elements on land in part due to China’s decreasing of its exports from its Bayan Obo mine, the world’s largest rare earth element mine, deep-ocean deposits have been considered as a potential alternative source. No deep-sea mining leases have been made in the Arctic, but discoveries such as these latest results on scandium will likely add to excitement about the future potential of the industry on the high seas. In any case, mining could start much sooner within the existing territorial seabeds of the Arctic littoral states.
The first use of scandium-reinforced aluminum was on the nose cones of Soviet ballistic missiles. The alloy allowed the Soviets to launch missiles from submarines that could slash up through the Arctic sea ice from below, emerging damage-free and ready to strike. I suppose the first application of this alloy is appropriate given the recent discovery of scandium-enriched crusts in the Arctic. Let’s just hope that if mining proceeds in the years to come, more useful applications will be made than furthering the arms industry, least of all in the Arctic. This is especially the case given the region’s fragile environment and the little scientific knowledge that exists about the deep sea. Mining for minerals inevitably comes at an environmental cost, one which would not be worthwhile if the only use were for advancing the destructive capabilities of military technology.
-  Scandium, A Rare Earth That’s Not Really A Rare Earth?
-  Duncan, R. 2008. Elements of Faith. New Leaf Publishing Group: p. 46.
A 60-year-old Willow woman is accused of ramming her car into a trooper vehicle.
Dona Carnahan is charged with assault, failure to stop at an officer’s direction, criminal mischief, driving under the influence and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.
Troopers say Carnahan was hysterical when she called 911 early Wednesday to say a female was from a home.
Troopers say they tried to contact Carnahan, but she drove away.
According to troopers, a trooper tried to stop Carnahan, but she kept going and about two miles later spun her vehicle around and tried to ram the trooper’s vehicle.
The trooper was not hurt. Troopers say Carnahan sustained minor injuries. Both vehicles were damaged.
Troopers say Carnahan was under the influence of alcohol and had a shotgun in her vehicle.
A proposal to build a 160-foot microwave tower atop the Homer bluff has residents in the area concerned about their property values and views of Kachemak Bay. The City of Homer Planning Commission has already signed off on the project but it could still get hung up in the legal system.
The company applying for the permit is Anchorage-based Kodiak Microwave System. In its application to the city, the company says the 160-foot tower would be located on a five-acre lot in the Eker Estates subdivision, near the top of East Hill Road along Skyline Drive.
The purpose of the tower is to provide broadband internet services to the communities of Port Graham, Nanwalek, Halibut Cove and Nikolaevsk, as well as residents out East End Road. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has requested the tower as a way to provide better internet service to schools in Nanwalek and Port Graham and the Port Graham Village Council has said the tower would greatly improve business and education in that community.
In a Dec. 4 report, the city planning department recommended that the planning commission approve the plan, which it did, unanimously, at its last meeting.
Homer Planning Director Rick Abboud says that the city has followed the process for this permit as it’s laid out in city code, including notifying all property owners within 300 feet of the proposed tower.
Abboud says communications towers like the one proposed by Kodiak Microwave are not unusual in rural residential areas along the Homer bluff.
“Right on the other side of Skyline (Drive) … you’ll see a cluster of them,” he said. “So there is a precedent.”
Before the vote, the commission received a handful of letters from neighbors who are opposed to the microwave tower.
Kevin and Kathleen Fay live out of state but own property in the area. They wondered about the possible impacts of radiation emitted from the tower and the possibility of “cancer-causing radio waves.”
Scott Adams says he is more concerned about the effect the tower would have on the view and how that might affect the value of his property.
Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the plan has been Kevin Dee. Dee is the executive director of AGEYA Camp, a wilderness camp for Alaska Native youth that operates in the summertime. Although the camp is not within 300 feet of the tower site, Dee says it would definitely be affected.
“This represents a taking of value,” said Dee. “There’s going to be harm done here and the city shoudl not help to facilitate that.”
Kodiak Microwave says the tower would not be visible from downtown Homer or the Homer Spit but Dee disagrees with that. He says he has spent a lot of time recently researching microwave towers and speaking with his neighbors in the area, who he says are united against the tower project.
Some of the neighbors have already retained Homer attorney Lindsey Wolter to represent them. In a cease-and-desist letter sent to Kodiak Microwave on Thursday, Wolter says the proposed tower violates conditions of a 1990 covenant for the Eker Estates subdivision where it would be built.
The covenant states that, within the subdivision, “no lot shall be used except for residential purposes.” It also expressly forbids buildings more than two stories in height and satellite installations that detract from the view.
Rick Abboud says the neighbors’ disagreement about the covenant will have to work its way through the legal system and that is not something that is within the City of Homer’s purview.
Abboud says the next step in the process would be a final “yes or no” decision from himself and the chair of the planning commission. Once that is issued, anyone who opposes the decision would have 30 days to file an appeal, which would then be heard by the Homer City Council, acting as the Board of Adjustment.
A new program is scheduled to get started next year in Alaska to help prepare people to become nurses.
The Alaska Nursing Action Coalition is slated to be part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $4.5 million initiative called the “Future of Nursing State Implementation Program.”
The program is intended to bolster efforts already underway in 50 states to address the issues of access, quality and the cost of health care. The Alaska Nursing Action Coalition is slated to get $150,000 over 2 years.
The Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has released a draft of some proposed changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Act was last reauthorized by Congress back in 2006 and its up for another review and re-authorization.
The Act governs the commercial and recreational harvest of fish in Federal waters. Representative Doc Hastings unveiled the proposed changes to the Act on Dec. 20 and stressed that the goal of the release is to gather public input. Hastings believes the proposed changes would give regional fishery managers more flexibility to deal with complex fishery issues. He also claims the changes would improve the ability to collect fishery data.
The proposed changes to the Magnuson Stevens Act are available on the website of the House Natural Resources Committee and you can submit your comments about the proposed changes by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.