Photograph by Manfred Linke/laif/Redux
A helicopter carrying U.S. Steel geologists set down by chance on a hilltop to refuel in July 1967. They looked at the ground and discovered what would turn out to be one of the largest and most concentrated iron deposits in the world. The Serra dos Carajas mine is pictured here in September 1989.
Iron ore is the world's second-biggest commodity cargo after crude oil, and Vale SA, based in Rio de Janeiro, is the biggest producer, accounting for about 31 percent of global iron ore exports.
China's need for raw materials for steel has grown eightfold since 2000. The scale of Brazil's iron output to China is so prodigious that Vale SA is spending more than $8 billion on a fleet of epic ships. The Valemax ships measure almost 1,200 feet long and can carry 400,000 metric tons of iron ore. China and Brazil are negotiating port-entry permits for the mammoth ships.
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