The Deep Sea Minerals Project aimed to improve governance and management of deep-sea mineral resources across the region in accordance with international law. Mining within EEZ areas is under the jurisdictions of national governments. The possibility of prospecting for and extraction of gas hydrates in future decades has initiated discussion concerning regulations and management policy. No coordinated international regulations are in place to cover gas hydrate extraction, but national policies have been developed by coastal states including Japan, China, the United States, India, and Malaysia Zhao et al.
All proposed seabed minerals mining operations are based on a similar concept of using a seabed resource collector, a lifting system and support vessels involved in offshore processing and transporting ore. Most proposed seabed collection systems envisage the use of remotely operated vehicles, which would extract deposits from the seabed using mechanical or pressurized water drills Figure 4. Development of deep-sea minerals mining technology is underway, though the greater depths involved present additional challenges.
Mining for SMS at hydrothermal vents would involve mechanical removal of the ore and transportation to a support vessel to extract the necessary materials. Harvesting nodules would mean retrieving the potato-sized deposits from the seafloor then pumping the collected material to a surface vessel through a vertical riser pipe Blue Nodules, ; Jones et al. Figure 4. A schematic showing the processes involved in deep-sea mining for the three main types of mineral deposit.
Schematic not to scale. Natural gas would be extracted from reservoirs of gas hydrate in marine sediment or beneath terrestrial permafrost using one of three main methods: depressurization of the reservoir; increasing the temperature; or injecting chemical inhibitors Makogon et al.
Polymetallic nodules form at a rate of several mm to several cm per million years Halbach et al. Nodules are found in many areas of the Pacific Ocean, though for technical and economic reasons only a small percentage of nodules will be suitable for commercial exploitation. The composition of nodules is not uniform. Research has shown that deposits found just several m apart can vary appreciably in composition—the concentration of minerals in nodules found in the North Pacific belt is greater than the South Pacific; percentage values from the former region are reported as: Mn 22—27; Ni 1.
Polymetallic nodules are also found in the Indian Ocean. Seafloor massive sulfides are most likely to yield copper and zinc, though some also contain commercially significant grades metal content of gold 0—20 ppm and silver 0—1, ppm; Hoagland et al. Data obtained from sampling suggest that the grades of some marine sulfide deposits, especially copper content, are higher than their terrestrial counterparts.
Research suggests that seafloor sediment may also be a valuable source of rare earth elements the lanthanides, plus scandium, and yttrium , with estimated reserves of more than million metric tons Kato et al. Most marine seafloor massive sulfide deposits are in the range 1 to 5 million Hoagland et al. Nautilus's Solwara 1 site has an indicated seafloor massive sulfide resource of 0.
At 90 million tons, the metalliferous muds of the Atlantis II Deep site in the central Red Sea may form the only seafloor massive sulfide deposit similar in scale to terrestrial sources Hoagland et al. Most companies focus on exploration of non-active hydrothermal vents. Cobalt-rich crusts on seamounts can potentially yield multiple metals—manganese, cobalt, nickel, rare earth elements, tellurium, and platinum. The technology and methodologies to assess resources on seamounts is being developed but mining CRCs is not yet technologically feasible Du et al.
The potential amount of natural gas in global reserves of gas hydrates are estimated to be around 1. Japan claimed to be the first country to successfully extract gas from methane hydrate in from an offshore location in its EEZ BBC, Japan and China reportedly extracted methane hydrates in mid Arstechnica, Projects in international and national waters are focusing on how feasibly to locate and extract minerals from the ocean for commercial gain.
Two companies have been awarded permission for exploitation, though neither has begun commercial operations—they are Nautilus Minerals and Diamond Fields International. Legal terminology varies depending on the country; some countries award licenses, some award permits and others award contracts to exploit mineral resources.
The main commercial focus of Nautilus Minerals is the Solwara 1 project to extract high-grade copper and gold from seafloor massive sulfide SMS deposits located at depths around 1,—2, m in the Bismarck Sea. Solwara 1 covers an area of 0. The project is projected to have a lifespan of 2. During its lifetime, an estimated 1. Nautilus Minerals, All three tools are undergoing 4-month-long submerged trials in an enclosed excavation on Motukea Island—the tools will not be deployed into the ocean and there will be no discharge of cut material into the environment.
Nautilus expects delivery of its production support vessel at the end of Nautilus Minerals, personal communication and initial deployment and testing at Solwara 1 to begin in the first quarter of , subject to financing Nautilus Minerals, a. There is evidence of extensive and continuous mineralization of zinc, copper, silver, gold, lead, and other metals Ransome, When commercial exploitation of marine resources was first suggested in the s, scant regard was given to environmental consequences.
Several decades on, an increasing number of commercial operations are in the pipeline and companies have been prospecting in international and national waters. In parallel with commercial interest in seabed minerals, there has been a deepening scientific understanding of marine ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Increased knowledge has, in turn, highlighted the potential consequences of mining in the deep sea Figure 5. In the past decade, for example, the implications of the rapid loss of marine species are becoming apparent. Biodiversity loss has led to discussions about ways to help marine ecosystems to develop resilience to climate and physical change, for example by establishing marine reserves, and studies have attempted to assess the environmental impacts of mining McCauley et al. Conclusions included the potential for release of toxic elements during the mining process and the difficulty of predicting the impact of release using data from laboratory experiments involving only one element.
Data on deep-sea biodiversity are scarce, and investigating the genetic connectivity and ascertaining the impacts to biota will require long-term studies. With regard to the longevity of impacts following the cessation of mining, MIDAS found that seafloor habitats did not recover for decades following disturbance and concluded that it was likely that the effects of commercial mining would be evident for longer timeframes.
In summary, small-scale trials cannot accurately predict the full consequences of commercial-scale mining. MIDAS worked alongside industry partners to investigate best practices, and in its conclusion to that work proposed an environmental management strategy that adopted a precautionary approach that would incorporate adaptive management.
Figure 5. A schematic showing the potential impacts of deep-sea mining on marine ecosystems. Environmental management of the Area is by the ISA, which to date has only needed to implement regulations relating to exploration. As interest in commercial exploitation advances, the ISA is now in the process of developing a regulatory framework for exploitation. Environmental management of exploitation in the Area will ideally involve different levels of assessment, some of which will be carried out by the ISA and some by contractors.
At the time of writing, the most recent draft of the exploitation regulations does not address environmental management in detail and specific protocols have yet to be developed. Ideally, the process will involve a strategic environmental assessment and plan, overseen by the ISA, that covers activity across the entire Area. Regional environmental assessments and plans will be prepared by the ISA for smaller zones within the Area and mining contractors would commission environmental impact assessments and statements for the specific area of their contracts.
However, full details of how the ISA will manage the environmental aspects relevant to exploitation have not been finalized, there is a dearth of published baseline environmental data and questions remain, including who or what body will manage and monitor areas of particular environmental interest.
The physical recovery of manganese nodules will take millions of years because deposition rate of new nodules is slow Halbach et al. After the removal of nodules, it is unknown whether associated biota will recover. A number of experiments have investigated the impact of nodule removal on the benthic environment in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone have shown highly variable results. For example, an experimental extraction of nodules from the CCZ was conducted in the so-called OMCO experiment , and the area revisited in to assess the recovery of the benthic habitat.
Despite the ensuing 26 years, tracks made by the mining vehicles were still clearly visible and there was a reduced diversity and biomass of nematode worms within the disturbed tracks when compared to surrounding undisturbed areas Miljutin et al. Experiments carried out to date have been conducted on much smaller scales than proposed commercial operations, and some tests did not involve recovery of nodules. Tilot analyzed , photographs and 55 h of video footage taken since to investigate the biodiversity and distribution of benthic megafauna associated with polymetallic nodules in the CCZ.
The study found the polymetallic nodule ecosystem to be a unique habitat for suprabenthic megafauna. Figure 6. Examples of seafloor morphology and disturbance. Remotely operated machines will inevitably cause direct physical impact to the seabed, changing its topography through suction or drilling, removal of substrate and by machinery movements. Mining that targets hydrothermal vent chimneys will remove those features entirely, leaving a flatter topography with a more uniform surface and compressed sediment in many areas that could be unsuitable for habitat recovery and recolonization.
Van Dover suggests that mining will alter the distribution of vents but the mineral component of chimneys could reform over time if the vents remain active. Hekinian et al. However, it is unknown how long it would take for the recovery of vent-associated species. Van Dover assessed the impact of anthropogenic activity scientific research and commercial exploration on ecosystems surrounding hydrothermal vents and suggest that factors likely to impact vent communities include light and noise pollution, discarded materials, crushing seabed organisms and heavy vehicles compacting the seabed.
In addition, intentional or unintentional transport of species in ballast water, on equipment or relocation of fauna prior to mining activity to a different location can introduce potentially invasive species to habitats Van Dover, Van Dover also refer to potentially unique communities associated with inactive vent sites and mining at these locations could permanently change community structures.
Nautilus Minerals expects its mining operations to take place 24 h a day, days per year at Solwara 1. The operation will use three large robotic machines: an auxiliary vehicle will prepare and flatten the seabed by leveling chimneys and destroying habitats, a bulk cutter will leave cut material on the seabed, then a collecting machine will gather the material as slurry and it will be pumped up a rigid pipe to the production support vessel on the sea surface.
Approximately , m 3 of unconsolidated sediment will be moved by Nautilus Minerals over a mining period of 30 months Nautilus Minerals, , b. Mining CRC deposits on seamounts will cause direct mortality to sessile organisms. The extent of mining on seamounts will dictate the level of impact, but it is likely that intensive mining could disrupt pelagic species aggregations due to the removal of benthic fauna, the presence of machinery and disruption as a result of noise, light and suspended sediments in the water column.
Gollner et al. Though there are few data on recovery of species after intensive periods of trawling, the negative impact of deep-sea fisheries on seamounts is well-documented with noted declines in faunal biodiversity, cover, and abundance Clark et al. The impact of marine mining may be more intensive than trawling because the removal of substrata will be complete. Such removal on a commercial scale accompanied by slow species recovery rates will likely lead to irreversible changes in benthic and possibly pelagic community structure on and around seamounts Gollner et al.
Gas hydrates have attracted attention commercially as a potential future energy resource Lee and Holder, but prospecting and any subsequent extraction of gas hydrates from seabed or permafrost reserves carries potentially considerable environmental risk. The greatest impact would be accidental leakage of methane during the dissociation process. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide according to the assigned global warming potential over years IPCC, Other possible impacts of methane hydrate extraction include subsidence of the seafloor and submarine landslides, which could cause even greater instability in remaining hydrate deposits.
Anthropogenic activity that leads to increased water temperature at seabed level could also destabilize and melt the hydrates. If increasing quantities of methane hydrate is destabilized and released, atmospheric temperature may rise leading to a positive carbon-climate feedback Archer, ; Zhao et al. Concerns are also that mining could affect biota—chemosynthetic life and higher order organisms have been found on seafloor hydrate mounds.
Fisher et al. Commercial mining activity will have widespread environmental consequences. Deep-sea sediment plumes will be created by seafloor production vehicles—specifically the cutter and the collector—as well as by risers and processed material that is discharged as waste-water by the surface support vessel Boschen et al. Dewatering waste, side cast sediment and sediment released during the mining process are thought to be the main wastes released during mineral recovery.
Dewatering waste may contain fine sediment and heavy metals that would be resuspended when discharged into the water column Nautilus Minerals, The side-casting of sediment waste on the seafloor minimizes the need for transport to the surface or land-based storage, but would nonetheless lead to major physical alterations and would smother the benthic habitat.
In relation to the proposed mining at Solwara 1, Nautilus Minerals state that their waste sediment and rock, an estimated , tons Nautilus Minerals, , will be side cast at the edge of the mining zone. Discharged return water will be returned at 25—50 m above the seabed. The release of potentially toxic plumes is likely to impact habitats well beyond the area of mining, though details such as the volume and direction of plume travel are not yet fully understood.
Some models suggest that sediment released close to the seabed may, in some circumstances, be confined to deep water and not move into the upper water column because of differences in water density Bashir et al. However, suspended particulate matter and settlement of sediment could cover a wide area depending on discharge volume, vertical stratification and ocean currents. According to Nautilus Minerals and Boschen et al. Natural sedimentation rates are thought to be only few millimeters per 1, years in both abyssal and seamount habitats.
Making predictions of potential plume movements using models is a complex task in the absence of extensive data on plumes, upwelling, and oceanographic currents Luick, Commercial seabed mining has not begun and therefore it is difficult to predict the impacts, but some terrestrial mining operations can help to predict potential consequences of mining operations.
For example, tailings disposed of at sea from the terrestrial Lihir Gold mine in Papua New Guinea are estimated to have spread over an area of 60 km 2 from the point of discharge because of subsurface currents Shimmield et al. Even when plumes are restricted to deep waters, impact to benthic communities cannot be avoided considering that the overall topography of the seabed could be altered and organisms will endure some extent of smothering. Such smothering will impede gas exchange and feeding structures in sessile organisms and could cause a number of other as yet unquantified impacts as a result of exposure to heavy metals and acidic wastes Van Dover, The presence of sediment plumes could delay or prevent recolonization of mined areas through altered larval dispersal, mortality of larvae and success of larval settlement Gollner et al.
Suggestions of technological modifications that could be employed to lessen the effect of plumes include reducing the size of the plumes and the toxicity of sediment particles, and by minimizing the accidental escape of suspended sediment during the cutting process Boschen et al. The discharge of wastewater at the sea surface could impact marine ecosystems by causing turbidity clouds and affecting commercial fish species, as well as, in some cases, causing algal blooms Namibian Marine Phosphates, Submerged remotely operated vehicles will increase underwater ambient noise, as will support vessels on the sea surface.
Most deep-sea species generally only experience low-levels of noise, such that anthropogenic noise, particularly if occurring on a non-stop basis, will substantially increase ambient sound levels Bashir et al. Anthropogenic noise is known to impact a number of fish species and marine mammals by inducing behavior changes, masking communication, and causing temporary threshold-shifts in hearing or permanent damage depending on the species, type of noise and received level Gomez et al.
Nautilus Minerals plans to operate its seafloor production tools and offshore vessels 24 h per day, with operations on the surface and seafloor using artificial lighting. The company expects that the noise from its seafloor production tools and mining support vessels will add to ambient noise levels but precise noise characteristics of the equipment are unknown. In its environmental impact statement EIS , Nautilus Minerals did not measure ambient noise or assess sound attenuation in relation to proposed commercial operations at Solwara 1 but referred to an older published study from the Beaufort Sea, Canada, for suggested ambient noise levels Richardson et al.
Mitigation strategies were not suggested by the company in its EIS. Sunlight readily penetrates the euphotic zone approximately the uppermost m of the ocean, depending upon conditions , enabling photosynthesis, but relatively little sunlight penetrates the dysphotic zone —1, m. The aphotic zone is below the penetration of sunlight but is not completely dark: low light in the deep sea has been shown to originate from bioluminescence Craig et al.
Continuous mining activity that employs floodlighting on surface support vessels and seafloor mining tools would vastly increase light levels on a long-term basis and this would be a change from current conditions at proposed mining sites.
For example, most of the light detected at two hydrothermal vents one on the East Pacific Ridge, the other in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was near-infrared Van Dover et al. Herring et al. Research is needed to determine the extent to which Beck's petrel Pseudobulweria becki —a species listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List and which is native to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands—would be attracted by artificial light used in proposed mining operations.
If increased light levels were to persist, other mobile organisms might migrate away from the mine site. To date, there is no evidence that Nautilus has investigated ambient light levels at the Solwara 1 site or considered the likely significance of such impacts in any detail Nautilus Minerals, Drilling and vehicle operation during mining will release heat, as will dewatering waste that is returned to the deep sea.
Very little is known about the impact of such temperature increases on deep-sea organisms, though it is thought that the deep sea has a relatively stable temperature and changes could affect growth, metabolism, reproductive success and survival of some deep-sea species Bashir et al.
Deep-sea mining will inevitably cause loss of biodiversity on a local scale. Depending on factors such as the type of impact for example, sediment plumes or noise , the type of mining and the ecosystem, biodiversity across a much wider area could be affected. The geographic and temporal scale of mining activities will affect the level and type of impact. For instance, extraction of SMS may target several hectares per year, whereas the area of cobalt-crust mining may range from tens to hundreds of square kilometers Hein et al.
Mining activities will result in the direct mortality of organisms, removal and fragmentation of substrate habitat and degradation of the water column and seabed by sediment plumes Van Dover et al. The extent of habitat fragmentation because of mining is difficult to predict, given that there have been no large-scale trials.
Mining large, continuous fields of manganese nodules will create a mosaic of smaller-sized fields, and mining SMS will lead to further fragmentation of an ecosystem that is, naturally, unevenly spaced but heavily dependent on association with specific and localized seabed features. The extent of resource extraction and plume dispersal will influence the size of the remaining fragments. Benthic organisms span a range of sizes with different ecological characteristics that dictate the nature and extent of their dispersal, mobility, and feeding strategies.
The response of benthic organisms to the likely habitat fragmentation induced by mining will vary widely and will be challenging to predict because little is known about the life history or patterns of genetic diversity of many deep-sea species Boschen et al. Habitat modification may extend from the vicinity of mining operations to far-field effects, which are defined as those that are detectable more than 20 km away from the mining site.
Reasons for degradation of the marine environment include drifting sediment plumes and low frequency noise propagation, which could alter species distributions, ecosystem functioning or even seemingly unconnected processes such as carbon cycling Nath et al. The potential for benthic communities to recover is likely to vary substantially between locations and will be influenced by the duration of mining operations Van Dover, Slow-growing deep-sea organisms typically have correspondingly low resilience to change Rodrigues et al.
In the absence of commercial operations, recovery studies rely on study of the aftermath of natural extinction events such as volcanic eruptions or on deliberate disturbance experiments, but the spatial and temporal scales differ from commercial mining and so extrapolating results to determine ecological responses to seabed mining has limited application Jones et al.
The extraction of manganese nodules removes the habitat for nodule dwelling organisms, making recovery of these communities almost impossible given the long time periods required for nodule formation. The experiment replicated on a small scale the disturbance that would be caused by commercially mining manganese nodules by plow harrowing a circular area of the seabed measuring The aim of the project was to monitor recolonization of benthic biota.
The experimental area was sampled five times: before, immediately after the disturbance, then after 6 months, 3 and 7 years. After 7 years, the tracks made by the plow were still visible. Mobile animals began to repopulate the disturbed area soon after the damage was caused, but even after 7 years the total number of taxa was still low when compared to pre-disturbance data Bluhm, Preliminary results and observations note that the original plow marks are still visible and there has been only a low level of recolonization, suggesting that disturbing nodules for commercial mining will cause long-term damage to the benthic ecosystem JPI, Few species groups recovered to pre-mining baseline conditions even after two decades and Jones et al.
After mining seafloor massive sulfide deposits, vent community recovery will rely on the continuation of the hydrothermal energy source and presence of all species to enable repopulation. Community composition changes are likely due to recolonization of substrates by early successional species and the loss of species sensitive to change Bashir et al.
Mullineaux et al. Shank et al. Sustained mining activity will have very different impacts to one-off natural events and the likelihood and extent of recovery of mined vent sites is highly uncertain Van Dover, In an attempt to mitigate disturbance caused by mining, Nautilus Minerals proposes to temporarily transplant large organisms and clumps of substrate to a refuge area before mining and return them to their original position when mining ceases Nautilus Minerals, The proposals have not yet been field-tested.
Data indicating the recovery of biota on seamounts following physical disturbance are scarce. Studies looking at seamounts that have been overexploited by trawler fishing indicate uncertainty as to whether recovery of deep-sea fish populations is possible because species are slow growing and bottom trawling in common with mining operations causes severe physical disturbance to the seabed.
Additional challenges arise when predicting seamount recovery because seamounts vary widely in size, location and environmental conditions Clark et al. Mining extinct vents only is anticipated to minimize impacts to vent species, because extinct sites are considered to host fewer species than active sites. Extinct vents are largely unstudied because they are difficult to locate without a hydrothermal plume Van Dover, However, it may be challenging to determine whether a particular vent is extinct or temporally inactive; some reports suggest vent systems can be inactive for several years before reactivating Birney, For example, vent activity was highly variable over a 3-year period of investigation at Solwara 1 Nautilus Minerals, Suzuki et al.
Van Dover noted that extinct vents with no detectable emissions nevertheless still hosted suspension feeding and grazing invertebrates. Seabed mining impacts have the potential to conflict with subsistence and commercial fishing, and shipping activities. The analysis of deep-sea biota for novel chemical compounds that could be used in medicines is another area of growing commercial interest.
Legal cases could be brought if, for example, a sediment plume crosses a boundary and causes harm to the marine environment of a coastal state or to the area outside a contractor's allocated site. It is reported that fishing activities will cease in the immediate mining area and the exclusion zone due to habitat removal and increased levels of maritime traffic Namibian Marine Phosphates, In another example, fishing companies were active opponents to a proposal for ironsand mining off New Zealand's west coast New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority, Armstrong et al.
For example, enzymes from deep-sea bacteria have been used in the development of commercial skin protection products by the French company Sederma for many years Arico and Salpin, Hydrothermal vent species are of particular interest because they have unusual symbiotic relationships, are resistant to heavy metals and yield thermotolerant enzymes with a number of commercial uses Ruth, ; Harden-Davies, The market for marine genetic resources is large and reached many billion US dollars by Leary et al.
Despite the significant economic value of deep-sea discoveries, there are concerns that mineral mining could destroy genetic resources before they have been fully understood or even discovered. There are also uncertainties surrounding the legal framework underpinning discoveries made in the Area Ruth, ; Harden-Davies, Interest in obtaining minerals and resources from the deep sea has gained momentum over the past decade but so too has the desire to survey, monitor, explore and understand deep-sea ecosystems.
Although only around 0. Advances in technology have made it possible to explore some of the deepest reaches of the ocean, leading to the discovery of hundreds of previously undescribed species but also making commercial exploitation of seabed minerals a real possibility. To date, no deep-sea commercial mining has taken place, nor have there been pilot operations to enable accurate assessment of impacts Van Dover, The resource closest to large-scale extraction is SMS by Nautilus Minerals at the Solwara 1 site in the national waters of Papua New Guinea, where exploitation is scheduled to begin in early The project has required significant financial investment and the company is under pressure to commence operations that will yield economic returns.
In this paper, we have outlined some of the very significant questions that surround plans for large-scale commercial minerals mining, whether within continental shelf boundaries or in the Area. When the mining of deep-sea minerals was first proposed several decades ago, knowledge of the deep-sea environment was relatively poor, as was our understanding of the potential impacts of seabed mining.
Though our understanding of deep-sea biodiversity remains limited, it is evident that many species have specific life-history adaptations for example, slow growing and delayed maturity; Ramirez-Llodra et al. Recovery from human-mediated disturbance could take decades, centuries or even millennia, if these ecosystems recover at all. Myriad impacts relate to seabed mining including the potential for conflicts with the interests of other users of the sea.
At the time of writing, the ISA was in the process of developing a regulatory framework for managing mining in the Area. The details of the environmental management framework the ISA will adopt is still unclear. Key issues that need to be defined before commercial mining operations begin, including how states can meet their duty, as stipulated in UNCLOS Article , to effectively protect the marine environment.
As understanding deepens with respect to ecosystem services and the role of the oceans in mitigating climate change, it seems wise to ensure that all necessary precautions are taken before any decision to allow deliberate disturbance that could have long-lasting and possibly unforeseen consequences. Current activity in the Area is subject to exploration regulations by the ISA, but exploitation will have a far greater environmental impact than exploration, and because of this, biodiversity loss as a consequence of commercial operations is the topic of current debate.
Mitigation techniques that have been proposed to monitor the potential impacts to biodiversity and aid recovery of mined areas are untested so far. Indeed, Van Dover , and Van Dover et al. Van Dover outlines a hierarchy of possible mitigation methods, including: 1 avoidance such as by establishing protected reserves within which no anthropogenic activity takes place , 2 minimization such as by establishing un-mined biological corridors, relocating animals from the site of activity to a site with no activity, minimizing machine noise or sediment plumes and 3 restoration as a last resort, because avoidance would be preferable.
A fourth mitigation method is offset the contractor would pay for the establishment of a dedicated reserve or for research , although Van Dover states that there is no such framework in place for hydrothermal systems and suggests initiating discussions on the topic among stakeholders with an interest in deep sea mining.
For hydrothermal vent ecosystems, a deeper understanding of the ways in which these ecosystems are likely to be impacted and respond to commercial mineral extraction activities would help to determine the likelihood of natural recovery. An advanced understanding of hydrothermal vent ecology is necessary but that will require funding for research, long-term monitoring and thorough environmental impact assessments prior to authorizing any commercial activity Van Dover, In its mining code currently only applicable to prospecting and exploration not exploitation , the ISA discusses establishing preservation reference zones PRZ; areas in which no mining takes place and impact reference zones IRZ; areas set aside for monitoring the impact of mining activity.
One point to note is that IRZs and PRZs are distinct from marine protected areas because they are intended to be tools for environmental monitoring, not for the conservation of biodiversity. Lallier and Maes recommend that the ISA mining code be developed to prioritize environmental protection through the application of the precautionary approach, but it is unclear how this would work on a practical basis, or whether protective measures would be effective.
A number of countries, including Canada, the United States, Mexico and Portugal, have established marine protected areas to protect hydrothermal vents and other deep-sea features Van Dover, , but it is unclear how beneficial these will be. Other strategies that have been suggested to mitigate the impact of deep-sea mining during the exploitation phase include reducing the area impacted by plumes; de-compacting sediment under the seafloor production tools; and leaving a proportion of nodules on the seabed such as the largest and the smallest.
However, to date there has been no large-scale deep-sea mining test and no assessment of whether any one strategy or combination of strategies would lessen any impact on biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Some opponents of deep-sea mining imply that any mitigation measures seem futile.
An article published in Science in called for the ISA to suspend approval for new exploration contracts and not approve any exploitation contracts until marine protected areas are designed and implemented for the high seas Wedding et al.
These authors also suggested that protected areas are designated before new exploration contracts are awarded. Many questions and uncertainties surround deep-sea mining, including those stemming from the complexity and scale of the proposed operations, and those arising from legal uncertainties relating to proposed exploitation in the Area and the fact that no large-scale impact trials have yet taken place.
In this review, we have presented some of the key issues, but very substantial and significant knowledge gaps remain. Data indicating the recovery of deep-sea biota following physical disturbance are scarce and thus this is an area warranting additional research.
There is an absence of baseline data from potential mining sites because only a fraction of the ocean has been studied in depth due to the logistical complexity and financial constraints of accessing the deep sea. Future studies could focus on understanding deep-sea ecology for example, local endemism, demographic and genetic connectivity relating to dispersal modes in the proposed mining zones.
Discussions are underway to develop the legal framework to regulate exploitation, including issues of environmental protection, accountability, interactions across international and national boundaries, and also between claims, with input from marine scientists, legal specialists, and non-governmental organizations. Uncertainties surrounding deep-sea ecology and ecological responses to mining-related activities mean that environmental management strategies would need to be tailored to incorporate natural temporal and spatial variability of deep-sea ecosystems Clark et al.
The impact of noise on deep-sea organisms is not well-studied, which represents another significant knowledge gap in the management of commercial activities. It is widely accepted that demand for metals for use in clean energy and emerging technologies will increase in the next decades, raising the likelihood of supply risk.
In response, retrieving metal resources from seabed mining has been identified as one of five sectors with a high potential for development within the European Commission's blue growth strategy European Commission, a. If technological challenges are overcome, the annual turnover of marine minerals mining within Europe could grow from zero to 10 billion Euros by Ehlers, However, there are alternatives to exploiting virgin stocks of ore from the seabed.
Such approaches include: substituting metals in short supply, such as rare earths, for more abundant minerals with similar properties United States Department of Energy, ; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ; landfill mining Wagner and Raymond, ; and collection and recycling of components from products at the end of their life-cycle.
Other novel options include the potential to recover lithium and other rare metals from seawater Hoshino, A European Commission initiative, adopted in , supports the transition toward a circular economy that promotes recycling and reuse of materials—from production to consumption—so that raw materials are fed back into the economy European Commission, b , though the strategy will depend on developing the necessary technology as well as changing consumer behavior.
Recycling, though crucial, is unlikely to provide sufficient quantities of metals to satisfy requirements in future years which has prompted suggestions that reducing use of metals in products will be a necessary part of product design United Nations Environment Programme, a. Increasing the longevity of technological devices and promoting responsible e-waste recycling could be achieved through manufacturer take-back schemes, in which component materials can be safely and effectively recovered for reuse.
Recycling metals carries its own challenges, which include potential release of toxic substances during processing and limitations during metals recovery that mean not all components can be isolated United Nations Environment Programme, a. A shift in focus to reducing consumption and, in addition, better product design United Nations Environment Programme, b. Closing the loop on metals use is possible because in theory all metals are recyclable, though we are some years away from achieving such a system Reck and Graedel, Improving consumer access to recycling and streamlining manufacturing processes can be a more efficient and economically viable method of sourcing metals than mining virgin ore and could greatly reduce or even negate the need for exploitation of seabed mineral resources.
DS, PJ: conceived review. DS, PJ: critically reviewed the paper. The preparation of this manuscript was funded by Greenpeace to provide independent scientific advice and analytic services to that non-governmental organization.
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Coral Reefs 33, 31— Fisher, C. Methane ice worms: Hesiocaeca methanicola colonizing fossil fuel reserves. Naturwissenschaften FSRN Therefore, the mining industry would need to invest heavily in new discoveries to fulfill the widening supply gap, and the type of mineral deposits that have been significant producers are the best bets.
They are also important producers of silver, gold, and lead, representing 8. To date, more than VMS deposits have been discovered across the globe, with average production of roughly 17Mt grading 1. Volcanogenic massive sulfides, as the name suggests, are associated with ancient underwater volcanic activity dating back to more than 3 billion years, and still continuing to this day.
As the crust warms, the ground softens, allowing hot magma to move up towards the ocean floor. The water is superheated and imbued with minerals, then expelled to the surface through black and white smokers. These plumes of minerals flowing from cracks in the ocean floor eventually settle back to the ocean the further they move away from the heat source.
The continual activity of the smokers and the deposition of minerals on the seafloor eventually form mineralized beds — the black and white smokers of today will become the VMS deposits of tomorrow. Through plate movements, ancient mineral-rich beds are transposed onto land that was once underwater. Due to the formation of clusters of deposits or ore lenses in close proximity, and the polymetallic nature of the ore, VMS deposits have immense potential for long-term production.
Typically, several deposits feed a central mill, creating economies of scale. The byproduct credits generated from production of different metals can also help mining companies enhance their cash profile. And, because of their polymetallic content, they continue to be one of the most desirable because of the security offered against fluctuating prices of different metals.
These high-grade deposits are often in the range of 5 to 20Mt, but can be considerably larger. As VMS deposits are found almost everywhere on Earth, there exists potential for new VMS camps like those in Canada to emerge in places that have been mostly overlooked by the mining industry. One region with such potential is Scandinavia, led by Sweden, whose mining history dates as far back as 6, years from today.
The Skellefte district in northern Sweden, for example, has a rich endowment of volcanogenic massive sulfides. Archeological and geological records show that Falun first started being mined around 1,AD. In its golden era, Falun produced as much as 3, tonnes of copper, helping Sweden to fund many of its wars in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sweden is also a large producer of iron ore. Every day, Sweden-owned LKAB pulls , tonnes of iron ore from hundreds of meters below surface — the equivalent volume of a storey building. Kiruna made headlines several years ago for a year plan to move the town of Kiruna to a new location, after it was discovered that cracks from mining were appearing in populated areas. Gold was found at Boliden in , from which the Swedish multinational mining company Boliden AB took its name.
The Boliden Group currently produces nearly 18, kilograms of gold a year and has three gold mines plus two gold smelters. In total, the country has about 15 metal mines in operation. Between Sweden and Finland, there are 30 mines and six smelters.
Aitkik was established in with approximately 39 million tonnes of ore processed into copper, gold and silver concentrates in For mining companies and explorers, Sweden is an extremely desirable country to work in. It has nearly companies with active exploration permits, and around 6, people directly employed in the industry. A national strategy for mineral exploration has resulted in more funding for mapping and gathering data on minerals. Political stability, a solid legal system based on penal and civil law, and highly developed infrastructure are important pluses for mining.
Another little-known fact about Sweden is the low cost of power. The corporate tax rate is a competitive One project that Norden has been actively advancing is the Gumsberg property in southern Sweden. This 18,hectare land package, consisting of five exploration licences, is known to host multiple zones of VMS-style mineralization.
The project is strategically located in the Bergslagen mining district, between the past-producing Falun and Saxberget mines, and the active Garpenberg Boliden and Zinkgruvan Lundin mines see map below. Despite its long-lived production history, relatively little modern exploration has taken place on the Gumsberg property. Nine holes m were drilled in to test the depth extent of several prospects with outcropping VMS and related surface mineralization.
An additional 12 holes were drilled during the Second World War and in In , through a combination of mapping, sampling, geophysical surveys and compilation of historic drill data, Norden and partner Eurasian Minerals were able to generate multiple high-priority drill targets near historic workings.
A reconnaissance diamond drilling campaign targeted exhalative-type lead-zinc-silver mineralization and replacement-style zinc-lead mineralization. Results included 2. Replacement-style mineralization was intersected by one drill hole with an interval of 5. These drill results demonstrated that multiple horizons of exhalative VMS-style mineralization are indeed present in the stratigraphy and contain interbedded zones of replacement-style mineralization.
The Gumsberg project is now estimated to contain approximately 27km of stratigraphy prospective for VMS containing base and precious metal mineralization. Last year, the company also began drilling on the Fredriksson Gruva target, a past-producing zinc-lead-silver mine, as part of an hole, 2,m diamond drill program on the Gumsberg property.
The idea behind drilling was to demonstrate that the mineralization at Fredriksson Gruva continues below the old mine workings, which extend to 91m depth, and to confirm historical silver-zinc-lead grades, thicknesses, and continuity. More importantly, this discovery was made within a geological setting unique to mineralization belonging to the Broken Hill Type BHT clan of silver rich zinc-lead ore deposits. Broken Hill Types are some of the largest and highest-grade ore deposits in the world.
They are distinguished from other silver-zinc-lead deposits by the chemistry of the sediment that hosts them, and they are usually associated spatially and temporally with volcanism. Just how significant were the drill results at Fredriksson Gruva?
To put into perspective, the GUM intercept Richard Rick Mills aheadoftheherd.
Discovery of hydrothermal vents and seafloor massive sulfides SMS that contain metals of economic importance due to their high concentrations has generated significant interest among researchers as well as entrepreneurs as an alternative source that can be mined in future. This chapter provides a brief historical review of hydrothermal systems, the distribution, geological setting, morphology, composition, and age as well as formation and source of metals in SMS deposits.
The chapter also looks at the criteria for recognition and exploration technologies for SMS deposits. Seafloor massive sulfide deposits : Distribution and prospecting. N2 - Discovery of hydrothermal vents and seafloor massive sulfides SMS that contain metals of economic importance due to their high concentrations has generated significant interest among researchers as well as entrepreneurs as an alternative source that can be mined in future.
AB - Discovery of hydrothermal vents and seafloor massive sulfides SMS that contain metals of economic importance due to their high concentrations has generated significant interest among researchers as well as entrepreneurs as an alternative source that can be mined in future. Sediment from these plumes may accumulate on the seabed, choking suspension feeders and burying seabed animals. This project aims to estimate the impacts of such plumes on the benthos.
The results may be used in future environmental impact assessments for deep-sea mining, and in the development of policy for environmental management. Both studies will contribute to the establishment of guidelines for exploration and exploiting activities at deep-sea mineral deposits. The oil industry has during the last decades developed sophisticated and successful methods and workflows for advanced geophysical exploration of oil and gas.
These methods can potentially give effective tools for marine mineral exploration through adjustments in acquisition, processing and interpretation techniques. In this project, the necessary adjustments will be studied and tested. In addition, new exploration methods and work flows will be developed. The focus of this study will be on methods for direct resource detection and on technology with a minimum impact on the marine environment.
Electric motor drives are the workhorses inside the state-of-the-art seafloor mining equipment. Thus, their reliable and predictable performance is imperative for the productivity and profitability of seafloor mining. The 6-phase, mechanical sensorless interior permanent magnet synchronous motor IPMSM drives will be the general focus of my research. The motor parameters as such as winding resistances and magnet field strengths are sensitive to atmospheric temperature, which can vary unprecedentedly in seafloor mining environments.
The varying parameters indicate the aging of the machine and influence the motor controller performance. The methods to identify such temperature-sensitive parameters online without additional sensors and adapt the torque control accordingly is also part of my research. An Embedded Real-Time Simulator has also been developed using a Zynq System-on-Chip to validate the control and estimation algorithms real-time.
The study of inactive as well as active ridge segments that are formed at slow and fast spreading rates and the estimation of consequences these have had on the grade, tonnages and ore-metal distribution of marine Cu-Zn-Cu-Au-PGE deposits. The study will be based on sampling of onshore deposits at appropriate localities and on submarine samples from the ocean basins.
Offshore mining will include mining equipment deployed on the seafloor and may be connected to a flexible hose and a rigid riser for vertical transport. Alternative vertical transport systems include mechanical, airlift and hydraulic systems. One project focuses on the dynamic behaviour of the vertical riser as a critical element that will govern the weather limitations and costs of such operations.
At large water depths vertical instabilities may occur as a result of the flow conditions in combination with other loads from ship motions, ocean waves and vortex induced shedding. This PhD project focuses on how the flow conditions can be modelled in sufficient detail to enable time domain simulations where all these effects can be captured.
PhD candidate Tor Huse Knudsen. A second project focuses on the development of numerical tools for simulating deep sea mining riser operations. This includes finite element FEM modeling of the structure, an empirical model for the external hydrodynamic loads, and a 1D multiphase flow model for the internal flow. Such a simulation tool can be used to predict the dynamic behavior of the riser, including time varying stresses and fatigue damage, and may therefore be used to design safe structures for deep sea mining.
Dynamic pipe flow modelling for Ocean Mining Lift System is a third vertical transport project. This research work aims to develop the 1D dynamic pipe flow model for the transport of minerals from sea bed to the sea surface. The developed model can be used to predict the pressure drop, local particle concentration and bed layer formation along the mining riser.
Flow model will be extended to study the feasibility of the gas lift system for deep sea mining application. These models will be improved by using lab scale experiment al data. Post-doc Niranjan Reddy Challabotla. This project discusses ethical aspects of deep sea mining, which is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the ocean floor at great depths.
The aim is to provide knowledge needed to make ethically responsible decisions with regard to deep sea mining and other activities involving environmental risk. For instance, we look at the question of the need for minerals. Is there a morally significant need for the minerals one seeks to attain from the ocean floor? What kind of needs does society have an obligation or reason to meet? What other moral considerations must the need for minerals be viewed in relation to?
Answering these questions will make us better able to evaluate whether deep sea mining should be supported from an ethical point of view. Like in the offshore industry, deep-sea mining will require special vessels with unique functionality to cover the stakeholder needs. This PhD position will explore marine system concepts for deep-sea mining, with an emphasis on understanding functional requirements of the vessel and payload systems, the vessel operating profile, high-level system architecture and cost structures.
This requires knowledge of the technical basis of naval architecture, as well as methods for systems design. Additionally, to ensure that commercially, operationally and technically viable concepts are investigated, a value chain perspective is needed, encompassing the deep-sea mining operations, as well as the logistics, processing and downstream activities like distribution and sales.
In order to generate solutions that are viable under varying and uncertain external conditions, an important part of the work is handling future uncertainty in the market state, physical operating environment weather conditions and water depth and the corresponding system requirements. The mining systems project focuses on technological aspects related to the marine mineral extraction on the deep ocean floor. Given deposit descriptions in terms of size geometry, mechanical properties and mineralogy the following will be considered:.
Following a holistic approach to the mining system various technologies and mining equipment will be selected for the setup of a pilot-plan setup. This project will interface with the projects for Vertical transportation and Energy supply.
Area of research include mechanical engineering, mechatronics and automation both for topside and subsea equipment. Through their spectral signatures, this technology allows us to identify and classify different types of minerals. Data are acquired with the first deep-sea UHI sensor and used to develop a classification method optimized for seafloor minerals. Contact: Post-doc Ines Dumke finished. This PhD-project will be targeted on the development of the international laws, regulations and state of technologies that are relevant for subsea mining through the last years.
It will focus on selected critical issues and aim to understand the position of different groups of nations and how they develop and change over time. Of particularly importance will be the concept of Common heritage, the relation to environmental issues and how changes in subsea mining technology influence society. The strength of an historical study will be to study the changes that have taken place during the last half century with regard to values, interests and possibilities, how they came about and how they influenced the law of the sea.
The policies and strategies of the different states and NGOs during the negotiations will be of interest. Of particular importance will be to study the Norwegian government and Parliament strategies and decisions compared to other states.
Detailed and accurate ore characterisation is necessary to maximise the efficiency of deposit identification, resource extraction, mineral processing and waste management. Through various petrographical methods, identification and description of deposit lithologies will provide information for compositional, textural, mineral liberation and processing considerations. This work is part of the Marmine project, and the data generated will directly feed in to other work packages, such as the Deep sea mining systems, and Mineral processing options.
Contrasting pre- and post-processing material will track the effectiveness of utilised mineral refinement techniques, improving process methodology, whilst rock mass characterisation will inform extraction and pit design considerations. Mineral chemistry and textures may serve as fingerprints for the ore-forming processes.
Detailed investigation of ore minerals and cogenetic, non-economic minerals can provide insights into the fundamental processes governing the formation of seafloor massive sulfide deposits in slow spreading ridges, including metal source s and fluid evolution. This may provide additional information to the search for onshore analogues. Also, the concentration and distribution of low grade precious and critical elements is important for identifying potential byproducts.
The assessment of undiscovered mineral resource potential in the mid-Atlantic ridge MAR area which falls within Norwegian jurisdiction, using play analysis. The candidate will contribute in a further development of the assessment methodology and is also expected to apply this to selected commodities and ore deposit types on the Norwegian mainland.
The goal is to increase the level of understanding on how the play analysis and quantitative techniques can be used to assess the mineral potential of marine and onshore mineral deposits. The focus of this study will be on normative questions involved in the development of new technology in general, and within deep sea mining in particular.
Nautilus' primary resource, Solwara 1, about 1, metres underwater, is a Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposit, which forms along. The main commercial focus of Nautilus Minerals is the Solwara 1 project to extract high-grade copper and gold from seafloor massive sulfide (SMS). It will be recovering what is called seafloor massive sulphide, for its copper and gold content. Risk management. It is just one of several.