Seafloor Mining

Should deep seabed mining be allowed?

Kim RE. Should deep seabed mining be allowed?. Marine Policy [Internet]. 2017 ;82:134 - 137. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X16308119
Freely available?: 
No
Summary available?: 
No
Approximate cost to purchase or rent this item from the publisher: 
US $35.95
Type: Journal Article

Commercial interest in deep sea minerals in the area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction has rapidly increased in recent years. The International Seabed Authority has already given out 26 exploration contracts and it is currently in the process of developing the Mining Code for eventual exploitation of the mineral resources. Priority issues have so far been feasibility and profitability of this emerging industry, while relatively little consideration has been given as to how, and to an even lesser extent, whether deep seabed mining should proceed. This article makes a case that the global community should question and scrutinize the underlying assumption that deep seabed mining is going benefit humankind as a whole before commercializing the common heritage of humankind.

Resilience of benthic deep-sea fauna to mining activities

Gollner S, Kaiser S, Menzel L, Jones DOB, Brown A, Mestre NC, van Oevelen D, Menot L, Colaço A, Canals M, et al. Resilience of benthic deep-sea fauna to mining activities. Marine Environmental Research [Internet]. 2017 . Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141113617302441
Freely available?: 
No
Summary available?: 
No
Approximate cost to purchase or rent this item from the publisher: 
US $39.95
Type: Journal Article

With increasing demand for mineral resources, extraction of polymetallic sulphides at hydrothermal vents, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts at seamounts, and polymetallic nodules on abyssal plains may be imminent. Here, we shortly introduce ecosystem characteristics of mining areas, report on recent mining developments, and identify potential stress and disturbances created by mining. We analyze species’ potential resistance to future mining and perform meta-analyses on population density and diversity recovery after disturbances most similar to mining: volcanic eruptions at vents, fisheries on seamounts, and experiments that mimic nodule mining on abyssal plains. We report wide variation in recovery rates among taxa, size, and mobility of fauna. While densities and diversities of some taxa can recover to or even exceed pre-disturbance levels, community composition remains affected after decades. The loss of hard substrata or alteration of substrata composition may cause substantial community shifts that persist over geological timescales at mined sites.

The Community Structure of Deep-Sea Macrofauna Associated with Polymetallic Nodules in the Eastern Part of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone

De Smet B, Pape E, Riehl T, Bonifácio P, Colson L, Vanreusel A. The Community Structure of Deep-Sea Macrofauna Associated with Polymetallic Nodules in the Eastern Part of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. Frontiers in Marine Science [Internet]. 2017 ;4. Available from: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmars.2017.00103/full
Freely available?: 
Yes
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Journal Article

Deep-sea areas characterized by the presence of polymetallic nodules are getting increased attention due to their potential commercial and strategic interest for metals such as nickel, copper, and cobalt. The polymetallic nodules occur in areas beyond national jurisdiction, regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Under exploration contracts, contractors have the obligation to determine the environmental baseline in the exploration areas. Despite a large number of scientific cruises to the central east Pacific Ocean, few published data on the macrofaunal biodiversity and community structure are available for the abyssal fields of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ). This study focused on the macrofaunal abundance, diversity, and community structure in three physically comparable, mineable sites located in the license area of Global Sea Mineral Resources N.V. (GSR), at ~4,500 m depth. A homogeneous but diverse macrofaunal community associated with the sediment from polymetallic nodule areas was observed at a scale of 10 to 100 s of km. However, slight differences in the abundance and diversity of Polychaeta between sites can be explained by a decline in the estimated flux of particulate organic carbon (POC) along a southeast-northwest gradient, as well as by small differences in sediment characteristics and nodule abundance. The observed homogeneity in the macrofaunal community is an important prerequisite for assigning areas for impact and preservation reference zones. However, a precautionary approach regarding mining activities is recommended, awaiting further research during the exploration phase on environmental factors structuring macrofaunal communities in the CCFZ. For instance, future studies should consider habitat heterogeneity, which was previously shown to structure macrofauna communities at larger spatial scales. Acknowledging the limited sampling in the current study, a large fraction (59–85%; depending on the richness estimator used and the macrofaunal taxon of interest) of the macrofaunal genus/species diversity from the habitat under study was characterized.

Biological responses to disturbance from simulated deep-sea polymetallic nodule mining

Jones DOB, Kaiser S, Sweetman AK, Smith CR, Menot L, Vink A, Trueblood D, Greinert J, Billett DSM, Arbizu PMartinez, et al. Biological responses to disturbance from simulated deep-sea polymetallic nodule mining. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2017 ;12(2):e0171750. Available from: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0171750
Freely available?: 
Yes
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Journal Article

Commercial-scale mining for polymetallic nodules could have a major impact on the deep-sea environment, but the effects of these mining activities on deep-sea ecosystems are very poorly known. The first commercial test mining for polymetallic nodules was carried out in 1970. Since then a number of small-scale commercial test mining or scientific disturbance studies have been carried out. Here we evaluate changes in faunal densities and diversity of benthic communities measured in response to these 11 simulated or test nodule mining disturbances using meta-analysis techniques. We find that impacts are often severe immediately after mining, with major negative changes in density and diversity of most groups occurring. However, in some cases, the mobile fauna and small-sized fauna experienced less negative impacts over the longer term. At seven sites in the Pacific, multiple surveys assessed recovery in fauna over periods of up to 26 years. Almost all studies show some recovery in faunal density and diversity for meiofauna and mobile megafauna, often within one year. However, very few faunal groups return to baseline or control conditions after two decades. The effects of polymetallic nodule mining are likely to be long term. Our analyses show considerable negative biological effects of seafloor nodule mining, even at the small scale of test mining experiments, although there is variation in sensitivity amongst organisms of different sizes and functional groups, which have important implications for ecosystem responses. Unfortunately, many past studies have limitations that reduce their effectiveness in determining responses. We provide recommendations to improve future mining impact test studies. Further research to assess the effects of test-mining activities will inform ways to improve mining practices and guide effective environmental management of mining activities.

Deep-Sea Mining: Resource Potential, Technical and Environmental Considerations

Sharma R ed. Deep-Sea Mining: Resource Potential, Technical and Environmental Considerations. Springer; 2017. Available from: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319525563
Freely available?: 
No
Summary available?: 
No
Approximate cost to purchase or rent this item from the publisher: 
US $179.00
Type: Book

This comprehensive book contains contributions from specialists who provide a complete status update along with outstanding issues encompassing different topics related to deep-sea mining. Interest in exploration and exploitation of deep-sea minerals is seeing a revival due to diminishing grades and increasing costs of processing of terrestrial minerals as well as availability of several strategic metals in seabed mineral resources; it therefore becomes imperative to take stock of various issues related to deep-sea mining.

The authors are experienced scientists and engineers from around the globe developing advanced technologies for mining and metallurgical extraction as well as performing deep sea exploration for several decades. They invite readers to learn about the resource potential of different deep-sea minerals, design considerations and development of mining systems, and the potential environmental impacts of mining in international waters.

Biological responses to disturbance from simulated deep-sea polymetallic nodule mining

Jones DOB, Kaiser S, Sweetman AK, Smith CR, Menot L, Vink A, Trueblood D, Greinert J, Billett DSM, Arbizu PMartinez, et al. Biological responses to disturbance from simulated deep-sea polymetallic nodule mining. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2017 ;12(2):e0171750. Available from: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0171750
Freely available?: 
Yes
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Journal Article

Commercial-scale mining for polymetallic nodules could have a major impact on the deep-sea environment, but the effects of these mining activities on deep-sea ecosystems are very poorly known. The first commercial test mining for polymetallic nodules was carried out in 1970. Since then a number of small-scale commercial test mining or scientific disturbance studies have been carried out. Here we evaluate changes in faunal densities and diversity of benthic communities measured in response to these 11 simulated or test nodule mining disturbances using meta-analysis techniques. We find that impacts are often severe immediately after mining, with major negative changes in density and diversity of most groups occurring. However, in some cases, the mobile fauna and small-sized fauna experienced less negative impacts over the longer term. At seven sites in the Pacific, multiple surveys assessed recovery in fauna over periods of up to 26 years. Almost all studies show some recovery in faunal density and diversity for meiofauna and mobile megafauna, often within one year. However, very few faunal groups return to baseline or control conditions after two decades. The effects of polymetallic nodule mining are likely to be long term. Our analyses show considerable negative biological effects of seafloor nodule mining, even at the small scale of test mining experiments, although there is variation in sensitivity amongst organisms of different sizes and functional groups, which have important implications for ecosystem responses. Unfortunately, many past studies have limitations that reduce their effectiveness in determining responses. We provide recommendations to improve future mining impact test studies. Further research to assess the effects of test-mining activities will inform ways to improve mining practices and guide effective environmental management of mining activities.

The International Seabed Authority and the Precautionary Principle: Balancing Deep Seabed Mineral Mining and Marine Environmental Protection

Jaeckel AL. The International Seabed Authority and the Precautionary Principle: Balancing Deep Seabed Mineral Mining and Marine Environmental Protection. Brill; 2017. Available from: http://www.brill.com/products/book/international-seabed-authority-and-precautionary-principle
Freely available?: 
No
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Book

With the transition to the commercial-scale exploitation of deep seabed minerals, the International Seabed Authority’s obligation to protect the marine environment is being tested. In The International Seabed Authority and the Precautionary Principle, Aline L. Jaeckel provides the first in-depth analysis of the Authority’s work in regulating and managing deep seabed minerals.

This book examines whether and to what extent the Authority is implementing the precautionary principle in practice. This includes the development of adequate environmental protection standards as well as procedural safeguards and decision-making processes that facilitate risk assessment and risk management. In doing so, the author offers an insightful example of how the precautionary principle can be translated into a practical management tool.

Conserving the common heritage of humankind – Options for the deep-seabed mining regime

Jaeckel A, Gjerde KM, Ardron JA. Conserving the common heritage of humankind – Options for the deep-seabed mining regime. Marine Policy [Internet]. 2017 ;78:150 - 157. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X16306716
Freely available?: 
No
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Journal Article

The seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction is the common heritage of mankind (CHM), as declared in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The CHM principle requires not only the sharing of benefits (the subject of a parallel article by the authors) but also the conservation and preservation of natural and biological resources for both present and future generations. The International Seabed Authority, tasked with operationalising the CHM principle in the context of deep-seabed mining, has not yet defined which measures it will take to give effect to environmental aspects of the CHM principle. This article seeks to contribute to the discussion about the operationalization of the CHM principle by specifically examining the environmental dimension of the CHM principle. To this end, the article interprets the CHM principle in the context of sustainable development and discusses a number of potential options the Authority could consider to support the application of the CHM principle. These include: funding scientific research to increase knowledge about the deep ocean for humankind; ensuring public participation in the decision-making process; debating the need for and alternatives to deep-seabed mining; determining conservation targets and levels of harm deemed acceptable; limiting environmental impacts; preserving mineable sites for future generations; compensating humankind for environmental harm; and ensuring enforcement.

Defining “serious harm” to the marine environment in the context of deep-seabed mining

Levin LA, Mengerink K, Gjerde KM, Rowden AA, Van Dover CLee, Clark MR, Ramirez-Llodra E, Currie B, Smith CR, Sato KN, et al. Defining “serious harm” to the marine environment in the context of deep-seabed mining. Marine Policy [Internet]. 2016 ;74:245 - 259. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X1630495X
Freely available?: 
No
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Journal Article

Increasing interest in deep-seabed mining has raised many questions surrounding its potential environmental impacts and how to assess the impacts’ significance. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is charged with ensuring effective protection of the marine environment as part of its responsibilities for managing mining in seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction (the Area) on behalf of humankind. This paper examines the international legal context for protection of the marine environment and defining the significant adverse change that can cause “serious harm”, a term used in the ISA Mining Code to indicate a level of harm that strong actions must be taken to avoid. It examines the thresholds and indicators that can reflect significant adverse change and considers the specific vulnerability of the four ecosystems associated with the minerals targeted for mining: (1) manganese (polymetallic) nodules, (2) seafloor massive (polymetallic) sulphides, (3) cobalt-rich (polymetallic) crusts and (4) phosphorites. The distributions and ecological setting, probable mining approaches and the potential environmental impacts of mining are examined for abyssal polymetallic nodule provinces, hydrothermal vents, seamounts and phosphorite-rich continental margins. Discussion focuses on the special features of the marine environment that affect the significance of the predicted environmental impacts and suggests actions that will advance understanding of these impacts.

Pacific-ACP states regional financial framework for deep sea minerals exploration and exploitation

Anon. Pacific-ACP states regional financial framework for deep sea minerals exploration and exploitation. Suva, Fiji: Pacific Community; 2016. Available from: http://dsm.gsd.spc.int/index.php/publications-and-reports
Freely available?: 
Yes
Summary available?: 
No
Type: Report

The Framework is designed to serve as a kind of “primer” for Pacific-ACP States on setting up national DSM fiscal revenue and wealth management frameworks. Some countries in the region have already begun to set up fiscal revenue frameworks, and a number of countries already have some form of long-term saving funds, which could be used in managing DSM wealth. Other countries are only at an early stage in thinking about these issues. The aim of the Framework is to assist those countries in navigating the path of setting up and implementing national DSM fiscal revenue and wealth management systems, with an introduction to the range of issues and challenges that they will need to address. 

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