Thursday 24 February 2011

REEaly a concern?

So, Rare Earth Elements are becoming a little bit short;

and threatening our non elemental lifestyle of ipods and (hopefully soon!) battery powered cars. This ‘shortage’ is in my opinion more of a political problem and a resource problem, with 95% of the supply of these elements originating in China and the government there looking to lower exports, presumably to prop up its high tec manufacturing industries at the cost of western jobs.
But this isn’t a blog into politics, however interesting it may be, this is about communication geosciences. So where does this fit into that framework?

Well we could use the increase in prices of electrical items to get people interested in minerals, after all these REE’s seem to reside as a accessory phase within a variety of different rocks and minerals. Or bounce off the REE’s shortfall to discuss the environmental effects of minerals important to the ‘green revolution’:

Searches for Copper (Google Trends)

 Firstly, though it would be good to check if there is a market; see if people really care about where minerals come from? Well Google track a certain number of searches for statistical analysis, and within Google trends, users can see how much interest is generated.
Looking towards copper (since most REE’s don’t generate enough interest) we can see that searches for ‘copper’ as a term have fallen over the last six years, despite the news coverage regarding its shortage increasing and the price in the last 3 years ballooning.

Searches for 'Copper Ore' (Google Trends)

Now if we also take into consideration that ‘copper’ is far from a geological concept, instead we need to use a term that interested parties may search in order to gain greater insight into copper generation. Copper ore, which would be the logical thing to type if you wanted to know what it was and how you get it. This too doesn’t seem to be bourgeoning with popularity, despite prices peaking in the past few years, the search queries have remained stable in the last 5 years.
Does this mean that people are looking less into the generation of ores? Of course, it doesn’t, this is one term, further research into this could well generate more interesting patterns. Also it doesn’t take into account

Searches for 'Geology' Google Trends)

Although searching around there is a more interesting pattern, over the last 7 years there has been a steady decrease in the number of searches for ‘geology’ Despite the news volume increasing (coinciding perfectly with the Boxing Day Tsunami) which highlights something else, unless there is a background interest, events need to occur in order for interest to be generated.  Is recent price increases to REE’s and the media coverage that has explored the trigger? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.