History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

SOURCE: The Atlantic DATE: December 20, 2019 SNIP: Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes. These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. Five years later, another ship found similar nuggets at the bottom of the Atlantic, and two years after that, it discovered a field of the same objects in the Pacific. For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up. Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. On the west coast of Africa, the De Beers Group is using a fleet of specialized ships to drag machinery across the seabed in search of diamonds. In 2018, those ships extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia; in 2019, De Beers commissioned a new ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company, Nautilus Minerals, is working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals, while Japan...
Electric car future may depend on deep sea mining

Electric car future may depend on deep sea mining

SOURCE: BBC DATE: November 13, 2019 SNIP: The future of electric cars may depend on mining critically important metals on the ocean floor. That’s the view of the engineer leading a major European investigation into new sources of key elements. Demand is soaring for the metal cobalt – an essential ingredient in batteries and abundant in rocks on the seabed. Laurens de Jonge, who’s running the EU project, says the transition to electric cars means “we need those resources”. What is ‘deep sea mining’? It’s hard to visualise, but imagine opencast mining taking place at the bottom of the ocean, where huge remote-controlled machines would excavate rocks from the seabed and pump them up to the surface. The concept has been talked about for decades, but until now it’s been thought too difficult to operate in the high-pressure, pitch-black conditions as much as 5km deep. Now the technology is advancing to the point where dozens of government and private ventures are weighing up the potential for mines on the ocean floor. Why would anyone bother? The short answer: demand. The rocks of the seabed are far richer in valuable metals than those on land and there’s a growing clamour to get at them. Billions of potato-sized rocks known as “nodules” litter the abyssal plains of the Pacific and other oceans and many are brimming with cobalt, suddenly highly sought after as the boom in the production of batteries gathers pace. At the moment, most of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo where for years there’ve been allegations of child labour, environmental damage and widespread...
Deep-sea ecosystems under threat from an emerging ocean industry

Deep-sea ecosystems under threat from an emerging ocean industry

SOURCE: The Ecologist DATE: March 15, 2019 SNIP: It would probably surprise you to hear that there are rich, deep-sea ecosystems under threat from an emerging ocean industry… and virtually no-one knows about it. Within the next decade, the deep-sea mining industry plans to send 300-tonne vehicles to harvest tens of thousands km2 of deep seafloor for minerals considered vital to the future of green technology. But these hard mineral resources are also home to fragile and diverse ecosystems, some new to science and some yet to be found. Currently in its exploration phase, deep-sea mining is targeting three different types of mineral resources on the deep-ocean floor: potato-sized manganese nodules, also known as polymetallic nodules, that carpet vast areas of abyssal plains; cobalt crusts, also known as ferromanganese crusts, that form on the slopes of some undersea mountains; and seafloor massive sulfides, that form at undersea hot springs called hydrothermal vents. The nodules are rich minerals of economic interest such as Nickel, Copper, Cobalt, Lithium and Rare Earth Elements, a group of elements vital for green technology, such as neodymium magnets for wind turbines and hybrid cars. [A]t hydrothermal vents… hot fluids burst out of the crust, precipitating minerals to form the seafloor deposits. These can be formed subsurface, or on the seafloor where the “chimneys” of hydrothermal vents tower up to 30m tall, all enriched in minerals such as Iron, Zinc, Copper, Lead, Gold and Silver. Both resource types provide hard surfaces for many species to attach to and create biodiversity hotspots filled with organisms often new to science. However, low food availability, cold temperatures, and low...