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Underwater Mining & the Aquatic Environment

Increasing demand for rare metals and minerals is steering the mining industry’s attention towards exploring deposits found on the ocean floor.

From seafloor massive sulphides (SMS) located around hydrothermal vents, to cobalt-rich crusts and trillions of polymetallic nodules, the promise of deep-sea mineral resources is creating an unprecedented interest in underwater mining.

Key fact: In the CCZ (Clarion Clipperton Zone) alone there are trillions of polymetallic nodules, loaded with copper, nickel, manganese, and other precious ores

Ship-based drill technology for deep-sea applications is currently being explored, with focus being paid to how drills can penetrate deeper into SMS deposits for representative sampling. Non-invasive exploratory equipment is also being used, such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) equipped with deep-sea cameras.

However, underwater mining will be devastating to the aquatic environment, with the potential to destroy deep-sea habitats, wipe out thousands of species, and fragment the ecosystem. This has led to the exploration of different technologies that will minimise the trade-offs between economic and environmental aspects of seabed mining.

Key fact: There’s over $150 trillion worth of gold in the seabed

Benefits

  • Utilisation of ocean minerals could contribute to sustainable future

  • Elements inside polymetallic nodules are crucial to technological advancements

  • No carbon emissions are produced

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