German scientists say they have discovered indicators of gold deposits at hotspots in the Pacific Ocean and measured the highest temperature ever recorded in the ocean at one of them.

According to Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), 378 degrees celsius was registered at a depth of 1,850 metres near the island nation of Vanuatu, about 1,750 kilometres east of northern Australia.

The only spot on the ocean floor ever found to be hotter — 403 degrees celsius — is in the Atlantic, noted the BGR’s Ulrich Schwarz-Schampera.

The scientists — from the BGR, the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Jacobs University in Bremen — recorded the unusually high temperature with the help of a remotely operated underwater robot at a “black smoker” within a volcanic basin.

A black smoker is a type of hydrothermal vent on the seabed that emits superheated water laden with minerals, leading to the formation of a metal-rich “chimney” three to four metres high that resembles a stalagmite in a cave.

The scientists found rich copper-zinc ore mineralisation in fluid samples taken from the hot spots — a possible indicator of gold deposits.

Whether or not a large vein of the precious metal lies below the seabed there is unclear, but Mr. Schwarz-Schampera said “it looks promising”. The area lies within Vanuatu’s marine territory.

He said the government of Vanuatu had granted a gold exploration licence to a contractor; the BGR has only a research permit.

“We want to understand how large gold deposits form”, Mr. Schwarz-Schampera said. Such knowledge could provide clues about lucrative sites for the metal, coveted for many purposes, elsewhere in the ocean.

Among the BGR’s tasks is to locate mineral resources extractable by Germany in international waters.

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