A couple weeks ago, we shared an article about a company in the UK joining the deep-sea mineral-mining rush. Since then, several articles have been published discussing the possible benefits of deep-sea mining, the environmental impacts and the likelihood of actually striking ‘gold’ down there. With all of that information floating around, we thought we would give you a summary of the situation as a whole.
What valuable resources can be found at the bottom of the ocean?
Polymetallic nodules – small lumps of rock that contain up to 28% metal – ranging in size from a golf ball to a potato, which contain the following:
- Manganese – 26%
- Iron – 6%
- Silicon – 5%
- Aluminum – 3%
- Nickel – 1.4 %
- Copper – 1.3 %
- Cobalt 0.25%
- Rare earth minerals
- Nickel, copper and cobalt are the most valuable
How much is it worth?
Truth is, we don’t know. As Terry Macalister wrote in an article for The Guardian, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and science minister David Willetts “gave the distinct impression this was a £40bn (US$60 bn) bonanza just waiting to happen when the reality is rather different.”
What we do know is that deposits found in the sea may contain up to ten times the amount of desired minerals as deposits found on land.
How will companies access these resources?
Mining rights are controlled by the International Seabed Authority, part of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Governments and companies must secure a license from the UN which costs about $500,000 each and is valid for 15 years.
The nodules are typically found in a shallow layer of silt and would be “vacuumed” up. Most plans involve grinding up the nodules, mixing them with sea water, and sucking them up through pipes to a ship waiting on the surface.
What impact deep-sea mining have on the environment?
Again, we don’t really know. There is a major lack of data regarding how much deep-sea mining would threaten marine life. Vacuuming up the nodules could create huge plumes of sediment that could harm and even suffocate local marine life. Some say that life could recover after one mining event while others say that doing it even once could have catastrophic consequences.
In a video clip from HuffPost Live, Director of Research and Development at the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program Rod Fujita points out that this could be problematic because “it’s not true that the deep sea is a desert. There’s a lot of life there. In fact there may be higher species diversity there than in many other parts of the ocean.”
So it’s safe to say that whatever we do, we must do with extreme caution.
To learn more:
- Watch this video from HuffPost Live: Deep Sea Mining Increases And So Do Risks
- Check out the International Seabed Authority website
- Read more about polymetallic nodules
- Read this article from Nature: UK company pursues deep-sea bonanza
- And this one from the Guardian: David Cameron’s seabed escapade unlikely to find pots of gold
- Check out this article from Discovery: Will Deep-sea Mining Yield an Underwater Gold Rush?
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.