The world’s oceans contain gold. Measured concentrations of gold in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific are 50–150 fmol/L or 10–30 parts per 1,000,000,000,000,000 quadrillion (about 10–30 g/km3). In general, gold concentrations for south Atlantic and central Pacific samples are the same (~50 fmol/L) but less certain. Mediterranean deep waters contain slightly higher concentrations of gold (100–150 fmol/L) attributed to wind-blown dust and/or rivers. At 10 parts per quadrillion the Earth’s oceans would hold 15,000 tonnes of gold. These figures are three orders of magnitude less than reported in the literature prior to 1988, indicating contamination problems with the earlier data.
A number of people have claimed to be able to economically recover gold from sea water, but so far they have all been either mistaken or acted in an intentional deception. Prescott Jernegan ran a gold-from-seawater swindle in the United States in the 1890s. A British fraudster ran the same scam in England in the early 1900s. Fritz Haber (the German inventor of the Haber process) did research on the extraction of gold from sea water in an effort to help pay Germany’s reparations following World War I. Based on the published values of 2 to 64 ppb of gold in seawater a commercially successful extraction seemed possible. After analysis of 4,000 water samples yielding an average of 0.004 ppb it became clear that the extraction would not be possible and he stopped the project. No commercially viable mechanism for performing gold extraction from sea water has yet been identified. Gold synthesis is not economically viable and is unlikely to become so in the foreseeable future.