– Joint press release by GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, Senckenberg and Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology –
Our planet’s ocean floor is rich in metal-rich ores. These include several important metals such as copper, nickel, cobalt, lithium, zinc, molybdenum and rare earth elements, which are required for high-tech products and energy transitions for his CO2 reduction.2 emissions. Economic analyzes therefore project a significant increase in demand for these metals through 2050, which may not be fully met by conventional land-based mining and the geopolitical crisis.
So far, 31 license areas have been awarded worldwide for the exploration of submarine marine mineral resources (polymetallic nodules, giant sulfides, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts). The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is charged with the management of these resources in the ‘sea area’, the seafloor beyond 200 nautical miles. In addition, the ISA is also mandated to protect the marine environment from severe damage caused by resource exploitation. For this purpose, the ISA has for several years developed the International Code of Mining Law. The ISA aims to implement this set of rules by July 2023.
The research vessel SONNE’s MiningImpact project, Expedition SO295, is currently navigating the polymetallic nodule region of the Clarion-Clipperton zone between Mexico and Hawaii to explore how the seafloor ecosystem is severely and long-term affected by polymetallic nodule mining. We are evaluating whether to receive Scientists from the 12 participating laboratories are tracking the impact of an industrial mining trial that will take place in the spring of 2021. In this trial, a pre-prototype seafloor nodule collector was used to remove the upper layers of the seafloor containing polymetals. A nodule covering an area of tens of thousands of square meters in the exploration license area of the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) and Belgium’s Global Sea Mineral Resources NV. The survey will be carried out using her GEOMAR submersible robot ROV Kiel 6000 for targeted field research and AUV Abyss for high-resolution photomapping of the ocean floor.
MiningImpact project coordinator and marine biogeochemist Matthias Haeckel, Ph.D. Geomar. At depths where polymetallic nodules occur, this layer forms over 10,000 to 20,000 years due to subsidence of dead plankton. In addition, seafloor layers removed during mining introduce sediment clouds into the water near the bottom, depositing on the seafloor even outside the mining area. “As a result, the affected areas are larger than the mined areas. The effects are also long-term. It will take centuries for ecosystem functioning in these areas to recover. Special manganese nodules habitats are permanently destroyed.” Principal Scientist in the HGF-MPG Group for Deep Sea Ecology and Technology at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Polar and Marine Science Center (AWI) Felix Janßen, Ph.D. and researcher. For economic reasons, one industrial block mining operation needs to mine 200-300 square kilometers of seabed area per year.
Polymetallic nodules occur on the bottom of all oceans at depths of 4,000 to 6,000 meters and form very slowly over millions of years. Potato-sized polymetallic nodules, composed of oxides of manganese and iron, provide habitat for certain deep-sea organisms that do not live on the soft seafloor, such as stemmed sponges, soft corals, sea anemones, and barnacles. “The soft sediments of the deep sea floor are home to hundreds of species such as isopods, fragile stars, nematodes and bivalves, which will also be affected by the development of polymetallic nodules. Biodiversity Most of the species have not yet been described, and nothing is known about their lifestyles,” says the director of the German Research Center for Marine Biodiversity in Senckenberg, who is also involved in the current survey. Chief Scientist Professor Pedro Martínez Albis points out.
Since 2015, MiningImpact researchers in eight European countries have successfully worked towards a comprehensive understanding of the deep-sea ecosystem in polymetallic nodule regions and the assessment of the environmental risks of deep-sea mining. Based on the knowledge gained, MiningImpact scientists are making specific recommendations to inform the International Seabed Agency’s mining legislation and actively discussing their findings with a wide range of decision makers. , developing large-scale, long-term environmental standards and options. – Sustained environmental destruction. MiningImpact is therefore already actively contributing to the environmental impact assessment of deep-sea mining requested by the German government this week.
Ongoing exploration SO295 is the MiningImpact project’s fifth exploration cruise. Previous expeditions SO239 and SO242 investigated his decade-old disturbance signatures in the polymetallic nodule area. Meanwhile, expedition SO268 and the BGR-led cruise MANGAN 2021 conducted baseline surveys and scientifically independent oversight of the first industrial collector test. A year and a half after testing, SO295 will collect the first significant data set on its impact on the deep-sea environment.
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