JPI Oceans: Deep-Sea Mining, what are the risks? Kick off meeting pilot action on impact assessment

Currently, all metal ores are mined on less than a third of earth's surface – on the continents. However, in recent decades governments and exploration companies directed their focus towards the other two thirds, the oceans. "Many questions about potential ore mining in the deep sea, however, are still unanswered," says Dr. Matthias Haeckel from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. He is the scientific coordinator of the project "Ecological aspects of deep-sea mining" which is aimed at investigating the potential environmental impacts in the next three years. A consortium of research ministries in eleven European countries is funding the project as part of JPI Oceans. This week, the project started with a kick-off meeting at GEOMAR.

The project is realized by 25 partners from 11 European countries. In the coming three years the participating scientists will study the deep-sea ecosystems in two areas hosting vast amounts of polymetallic nodules. Nodules have caught industry's interest because of promising prospects for heavy metals, such as rare earth elements (REE), copper, nickel, and cobalt. They mainly occur in the abyssal plains of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Ocean. First pilot mining projects were conducted in the 1970s but stopped again soon. In 1994, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) was founded to set up internationally binding regulations for the utilization of the seabed beyond national jurisdiction (called 'The Area') within the regularity of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Today ISA has granted 13 licenses for the exploration of polymetallic nodule fields in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the north-east Pacific and one license in the Indian Ocean. Several European countries are among the license holders. “But these are no mining licenses, which are anticipated  to follow in the next decade or so,” says Dr. Haeckel.

Read more on the JPI Oceans website.

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