January 2019 · Volume 4, Issue 1                    Subscribe | Visit Website
Mapping the deep sea mining system lends insights into the key problems, and solutions. Image credit Jory Fleming, Lucinda Ford, Edward Hornsby.

Diving Deep into Systems: Increasing Public Leverage in the Deep-sea Mining Conversation

Significant changes loom ahead in the new year and beyond for deep sea mining. Despite Nautilus’ setbacks this year, progress elsewhere appears to continue moving inexorably forward. At this crucial juncture, asking how we can ensure deep sea mining develops down a pathway ending in good governance and an environmentally-sound world is as important as ever. As graduate students in the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, we engaged in research to set out and map the system currently emerging.

Summarized in our system map below, our research identified two key feedback loops:

  1. Demand and prices of high value metals will likely rise in the coming decades, generating an increase in deep-sea mining and its profitability.
  2. As new scientific discoveries emerge, the increased knowledge can result in public awareness, conservation efforts, and a desire for further research.

Read more: Diving Deep into Systems: Increasing Public Leverage in the Deep-sea Mining Conversation

From the Editor: Happy New Year from the Deep-sea Mining Observer!

With regulations for the exploitation of polymetallic nodules coming out, new nodule harvesting machine deployed for testing, and global attention focused on exciting new studies from the CCZ, 2019 looks to be the year of the nodule. But nodule extraction in the area isn't the only region where the industry is making progress. Japan continues to advance its seafloor massive sulphide mining program and in the Atlantic, a fascinating story is unfolding around cobalt-crust on the Rio Grande Rise. 

Meanwhile, Nautilus Minerals, once hailed as the first in line to successfully mine a seafloor massive sulphide, continues to struggle. Loan repayments were due on January 14th, and, though they failed to secured the needed financing to delay repayment, they did secure $500,000USD to begin paying down debts as they search for more funding. The company is in a tight spot, but I've learned never to underestimate Nautilus's resilience. 

Modelling the ebb and flow of mining discharge plumes

Among the least understood impacts of deep-sea mining operations is the discharge plume. Nearly every plan to mine the seafloor involves some sort of system that either returns sediment to the bottom or discharges it at some point in the mid-water. How far those plumes travel and their impact on pelagic and benthic communities remains a moderate mystery. 
Illustration of nodule mining operation, including deep-water plume discharge. Image courtesy IUCN.
Dr. Thomas Peacock and other researcher at MIT have been working to model the dynamics of mid-water discharge plumes from nodule mining operations. In a recently published paper, they demonstrate that these plumes likely extend over 100 meters and that plume development is strongly determined by initial conditions that can be controlled through engineering and intervention at the point of discharge. It also highlights the need for accurate profiles of the water column above deep-sea mining operations and plume discharge sites. 
According to Peacock, "this modeling work by the ENDLab at MIT provides a starting point for assessing the physical environmental conditions associated with a discharge plume in the water column due to nodule mining operations.  Our results provide the near field conditions for initializing a regional scale simulation of long term transport, diffusion and settling of released sediment. Along with our recent PLUMEX field study, we are proceeding to develop this modeling effort, to obtain the data needed by the deep-sea mining community to make informed decisions."

Access the full paper here: Model investigations of discharge plumes generated by deep-sea nodule mining operations.

A lost continent rich in cobalt crusts could create a challenging precedent for mineral extraction in the high seas.

The Rio Grande Rise is an almost completely unstudied, geologically intriguing, ecologically mysterious, potential lost continent in the deep south Atlantic. And it also hosts dense cobalt-rich crusts.

The Rio Grande Rise is a region of deep-ocean seamounts roughly the area of Iceland in the southwestern Atlantic. It lies west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge off the coast of South America and near Brazil’s island territories. As the largest oceanic feature on the South American plate, it straddles two microplates. And yet, like much of the southern Atlantic deep sea, it is relatively under sampled.

Almost nothing is known about the ecology or biodiversity of the Rio Grande Rise.

Cut rock samples from the Rio Grande Rise show Fe-Mn crusts (black and gray) growing on various types of iron-rich substrate rocks (pale to dark brown). Photo credit: Kira Mizell, USGS.

Read more: A lost continent rich in cobalt crusts could create a challenging precedent for mineral extraction in the high seas.

New Resources

Upcoming Events

Career Opportunities

  1. (Hawai'i Pacific University) Assistant/Associate Professor – Oceanography.
  2. (The Ocean Cleanup) Cluster Hires.
The Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance shared this video about the value of the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone. 
Deep-sea Mining News in Brief

Galathied crabs, shrimp, graze bacteria on vent mussels (NOAA)

Japan’s Grand Plans to Mine Deep-sea Vents

(BBC) Off the coast of Okinawa, a slim stretch of land among Japan’s southern Ryuku islands, thousands of metres below the surface, there are the remains of extinct hydrothermal vent systems scattered about the ocean floor.

Read More: Japan’s Grand Plans to Mine Deep-sea Vents.


A nodule harvester. Image courtesy DeepGreen.

Metals for our Future

(Mining Beacon) In his presentation at the Mines and Money London conference in November, the CEO of DeepGreen Metals Inc., Gerard Barron, outlined the problems facing the global economy in the supply of sustainable metals and minerals, and the role this private Vancouver-based company is planning to play.

Read More: Metals for our Future.

Recent Press Headlines

(Radio New Zealand) Seabed mining project in PNG gets $500,000 loan.

(Pew Charitable Trusts) How to Protect the Deep Sea: Why regional environmental management plans are important.

(Mongabay) After the loss of a ship, deep sea mining plans for PNG founder.


Minerals Under Water: The Science and Politics of the New Frontier for Extractive Industries

Chapters on a range of topics related to deep sea mining are solicited for a book being edited by Dr. Andrew Thaler, in association with the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. This book will synthesize the most current knowledge on the topic across natural and social science disciplines. The book is timely as mining under water in both marine and freshwater systems is gaining traction worldwide and the environmental and social impact of the extraction is being widely debated.

We welcome academics and practitioners collaborating on chapters, as well as inclusion of scholars from developing countries.  The book will be divided into four parts and chapters should fall under one of the following categories:




Contributions from all ranges of disciplines are invited. Book chapters should be approximately 3000 to 5000 words and written in professional academic cadence with citations, as the manuscript will undergo rigorous peer review. 

Read more and submit your abstracts here.

How to access a research paper.

Deep-sea mining, as both an industry and community of practice, is highly engaged in the scientific process. From plume flow models to environmental baselines to new engineering advancements, much of the core discussions happening in deep sea mining happens within the scientific literature. This is incredibly valuable when it comes to fostering partnerships and collaborations between science, industry, and policymakers, while vetting new research through peer-review, but it presents one major challenge: not everyone can access scientific literature.

Stakeholders, particularly those in small-island developing states where new mining prospects are being proposed, rarely have access to the full breadth of the scientific literature. University and institutional libraries pay, in many cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain journal subscriptions. Without a subscription, a single paper can cost the reader $35 USD and to fully engage with the depth of mining literature, new stakeholders need to work through a 50-year backlog of studies, policy recommendations, and technical papers.

Read the full article here: How to access a research paper.

Visit DSM Observer
DSM Observer is a free online resource for deep-sea mining professionals, providing access to the latest news and information about the industry in a single place. Our monthly e-newsletter features updates on technology, business news, deep sea science, environmental issues, and policy.

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Submissions of guest editorials and multimedia content are welcome and will be considered on a case by case basis.

DSM Observer is published by Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors, via a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. Editor-in-chief: Andrew Thaler
Copyright © 2019 Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors, All rights reserved.

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