Titanium—Delivered by Tsunami

By Anne Casselman|Thursday, April 28, 2005
RELATED TAGS: NATURAL DISASTERS, OCEAN

The December 26 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people in southern Asia and Africa brought India a macabre windfall: tons of titanium ore, worth untold millions of dollars, deposited along more than 300 miles of shoreline.

The deposits—as high as 10 feet in some places—were left on sand dunes about a mile inshore, significantly adding to the titanium ore already there. The Times of India speculates that more than 40 million tons landed on the coast, but Victor Loveson, a geologist for the Central Mining Research Institute, says it’s too early to make an accurate estimate.

Most of the world’s high-grade titanium is mined from coastal deposits, called beach placers, using a modern version of panning for gold. The tsunami-dumped ore could help India keep up with a growing demand for the metal long into the future, Loveson says. Titanium alloys are a favorite of the aerospace industry and are increasingly used in such consumer products as cars, computers, and sports equipment. The alloys are 45 percent lighter than steel but just as strong, and they are resistant to heat and corrosion.

Loveson and his team of geologists found the ore by chance. They had planned a routine survey of the beaches of Tamil Nadu, at the southern tip of the country, on the same day the tsunami struck. When they arrived, they found a shoreline ravaged by the ferocious wave. Rather than turn back, they went to work, he says. “I didn’t want to miss it as a scientist and geologist.”

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