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Ancient fish fossils: hidden gems to uncover historic global climate change?

fossil, petrification, stone

Having always loved history and with that, archaeology, this article excites me! Before you think that this is just another article about the environment and global warming, think to yourself: when have I read an article about the relationship between ancient fossilised fish remains, rare metals, climate change and renewables before? Probably never! 

Diplomystus Fossil Fish

The pot of gold at the bottom of the seabed 

Interestingly, ancient fish fossils have become little ‘gems’ and pieces of treasure for researchers and, surprisingly, businesses, manufacturers and consumers. For over 34.5 million years, fossil beds have become home to a number of valuable rare elements and materials, having been deposited at the bottom of the ocean due to changes in the atmosphere and environment. As a result of ancient global climate change, geology drove fish to different locations, producing a whole host of different metals in different areas which are still being discovered. Investigating the movements of ancient schools of fish would constitute an interesting study in and of itself. Yet, this article focuses on the uses of the rare metals found in fossilised fish remains. 

Why should I care? 

I bet you didn’t know that metals used in wind turbines, LEDs and rechargeable batteries come from these rare-earth elements found in fossilised fish remains! Recently, a huge supply of these valuable, rare-earth resources has been discovered off the Japanese island Minamitorishima. To reach this discovery, archaeologists, researchers, and oceanographers had to scrupulously examine teeth and bone fragments, which demands our attention and recognition. I find it astonishing that these important materials feature in our daily lives through technology and modern development and many of us, I assume, have never heard of them before. 

Paradigm shift 

Coincidentally, these rare metal supplies are now helping fulfil demand for renewable energy sources, when they had previously been used in crude oil production. This helps shed light on an important trend underpinning the energy sector: decarbonisation through digitisation and technology. Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has facilitated and accelerated the shift towards clean energy solutions, and this example of REY metals being discovered off the coast of Japan, is just another example of this trend. 

Renewable Energy – Wind Farm

Moving forward 

Scientists have claimed this discovery can help aid the track and trace of new deposits – deposits which are crucial to our model development and sustainable energy transitions. However, there are some challenges that require consideration. Firstly, the fact that the deposit off the island of Minamitorishima is over 5 kilometers below sea level, making it both difficult to mine and costly. Whilst it has been claimed that this supply can satisfy global demand for hundreds of years, innovation is required in pricing strategies, supply chains and mining technology. 

Island of Minamitorishima

By Emily Digby

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