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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program

17-9. Geology of deep-ocean marine minerals

Marine minerals occur in every ocean basin, on both continental and oceanic crust; they are forming today, and some began forming 70 million years ago. The most well-known deposits are ferromanganese crusts and nodules (Hein and Koschinsky, 2014; Mizell and Hein, 2016) composed mainly of iron and manganese oxides that accumulate trace metals sourced from seawater and porewaters over millions of years, and hydrothermal deposits composed mainly of sulfide minerals (Gartman et al., 2014) that accumulate over thousands of years at tectonic boundaries. These deposits exhibit significant variability in extent and element composition across both timescales of formation, as well as spatially on local and global scales (e.g., Petersen et al., 2016). In addition to ferromanganese nodules, crusts, and hydrothermal sulfides, other marine minerals that have generated interest include phosphorite deposits (Altschuler, 1980; Hein et al., 2016), found in open-ocean environments and continental margins, and rare-earth element rich marine muds (e.g. Takaya et al., 2018) that may form from a variety of processes in the deep ocean.

As well as containing elements that may be valuable or critical to societal needs, these minerals may be used to study the paleoceanographic conditions that influenced their formation (Koschinsky and Hein, 2017) or provide insight into the formation of ancient marine mineral deposits now emplaced on land such as Volcanogenic Massive Sulfide (VMS) deposits. The deep-oceans are difficult to access and many challenges remain for this research, including deposit mapping and characterization and the development of technology for oceanographic mineral exploration.

We seek a postdoctoral scholar who can make a fundamental contribution to marine minerals research. Proposed work may use either archival samples from the USGS global crust database, archival hydrothermal chimneys, or other existing sample sets; alternatively, the proposal could reference samples to be collected on upcoming research expeditions although such opportunities should be identified. We are also interested in proposals that are experimental in nature or focus on developing geophysical techniques to detect or study marine minerals from ship-based platforms. The scale of possible topics ranges from local influences on mineral formation to more global processes such as isotopic fractionation, paleo-proxy development, or influences on deposit location and composition. In particular, we welcome applications that can cross disciplinary boundaries between marine science and geology.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the advisors below early in the application process to discuss project ideas.


Altschuler, Z.S. The geochemistry of trace elements in marine phosphorites Part I. Characteristic abundances and enrichment. In Marine Phosphorites—Geochemistry, Occurrence, Genesis; Bentor, Y.K., Ed.; Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists: Tulsa, OK, USA, 1980; pp. 19–30

Gartman, A., Findlay, A.J., and Luther III, G.W., 2014. Nanoparticulate pyrite and other nanoparticles are a widespread component of hydrothermal vent black smoker emissions. Chemical Geology. 366, 32-41

Hein, J.R. and Koschinsky, A., 2014. Deep-ocean ferromanganese crusts and nodules. In Holland, H.D. and Turekian, K.K. (eds.), Treatise on Geochemistry, Second Edition, v. 13, Chapter 11, p. 273-291, Oxford, Elsevier (

Hein, J.R., Koschinsky, A., Mikesell, M., Mizell, K., Glenn, C.R., and Wood, R., 2016. Marine phosphorites as potential resources for heavy rare earth elements and yttrium. Minerals, v. 6, doi:10.3390/min6030088.

Koschinsky A., and Hein, J.R., 2017. Marine Ferromanganese Encrustations: Archives of Changing Oceans Elements. 13; 177-182

Mizell K., Hein J.R. (2016) Ferromanganese Crusts and Nodules, Rocks that Grow. In: White W. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Geochemistry. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. Springer, Cham

Petersen, S., Krätschell, A., Augustin, N., Jamieson, J., Hein, J.R., Hannington, M.D. 2016. News from the seabed – Geological characteristics and resource potential of deep-sea mineral resources. Marine Policy. 70; 175-187

Takaya, Y., Yasukawa K., Kawasaki, T., Fujinaga, K., Ohta, J., Usui, Y., Nakamura, K., Kimura, J-I, Chang, Q., Hamada, M., Dodbiba, G., Nozaki, T., Iijima, K., Morisawa, T., Kuwahara, T., Ishida, Y., Ichimura, T., Kitazume, M., Fujita. T. and Kato, Y., 2018. The tremendous potential of deep-sea mud as a source of rare-earth elements. Nature Scientific Reports, 8: 5763 (

Proposed Duty Station: Santa Cruz, CA

Areas of Ph.D.: Geology, earth science, marine geology, oceanography, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Geologist, Research Oceanographer, Research Geophysicist. (This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist).

Research Advisor(s): Amy Gartman, 831-460-7562,; James R. Hein, 831-460-7419,

Human Resources Office Contact: Leah Lor,, 916-278-9394

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