The Natural Presence of Copper in the Environment

Modern industry makes extensive use of copper compounds, and it is a substance found most ubiquitously in electronics around the home and workplace.  Copper is useful because of several characteristics, namely: its very high conductivity and ductility, its low manufacture cost and its abundance in the natural environment.  Although copper is still very prevalent however, newer and more conductive alloys are increasingly being used for industrial products.

Although copper is relatively unreactive like metals including gold, silver and platinum, it is not found as a pure metal. Instead, copper compounds such as copper pyrites and malachite are found deep in the Earth’s crust. Copper minerals tend to have a blue or green colour, and this makes them readily identifiable in the natural environment.  Copper salts are also present in the oceans, although this is not mined due to logistical difficulties.

Minerals of copper are found predominantly in Australia, Chile and the US, and must be obtained through open pit mining’. This type of mining is the cheapest and makes the use of dynamite and explosives to obtain copper. The primary disadvantage of this method however, is that mines are unsightly and unattractive.

The rate of copper usage has multiplied by five in the last ten years, and as a result of this, copper reserves in the environment are running at an all-time low. Indeed, it is estimated that these reserves will last us only another 25 years before being completely exhausted due to excessive mining.

Whilst most copper is found buried in the Earth’s crust, a large proportion can be found dissolved as copper ions in seawater. Interestingly, it is copper ions dissolved in water that help contribute to the blue-green colour of seawater. Copper can also be found naturally in all living organisms, including humans; and this is because it is a vital trace element hat is required for efficient oxygen transport around the body.

In conclusion, copper is the second most heavily mined natural metal found on Earth. Whilst the concentration of copper is greatest in minerals found in the Earth’s crust, small traces of copper are present all round us in plants and animals. It is imperative that we eventually wean ourselves off copper usage by finding alternative metals which can be used in industry to replace it. We either accomplish this, or find another major copper reserve because world copper is becoming increasingly rare and perhaps more importantly, increasingly expensive.