A Summary of Deep-Sea Mining

Written by on March 26, 2013 in Technology

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?

A polymetallic or manganese nodule.

A polymetallic or manganese nodule. Photo credit: Koelle from de.wikipedia.

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.

A photo of life on the sea floor.

A photo of life on the sea floor. Photo credit: Deep East 2001, NOAA/OER.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She is also a PADI diver and dog lover. .

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  1. Matt Rosen says:

    There are also plenty of fun crystals down there worth a lot like Ocean Jasper :-D

  2. It is worth checking a couple of reports highlight the flawed EIS assessment of Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 project in Papua New Guinea, the first deep sea mining project to be given the green light

    November 2012: “Physical Oceanographic Assessment of the Nautilus Environmental Impact Statement for the Solwara 1 Project – An Independent Review”

    November 2011: “Out of Our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in Papua New Guinea”

    January 2009: “Independent Review of the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 Seabed Mining Project, Papua New Guinea”

    Reports can be downloaded here:
    http://deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org/report/

  3. Emily says:

    Thanks for the information! I’ll be sure to check out those reports.

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