Strategy Group Mineral Resources
Different types of marine mineral deposits (manganese nodules, massive sulfides, ferromanganese crusts, phosphorites), resource potential, and issues related to deep-sea mining
Support and develop science for:
- Resource assessments, and standardize protocols
- Environmental impact of deep-sea mining, building on projects such as JPI-Oceans “Ecological Aspects of Deep-sea Mining” and MIDAS
- Support development of a Pilot Mining Test
- Development of standards and protocols for environmental assessments and innovations in technologies
- Resource exploration on regional scales, predictive mapping
- Consideration of global deep-sea protected areas (areas of particular environmental interest)
- Public communication, involvement of the society (social acceptance)
- Assessment of ancillary effects of deep-sea mining, such as on land mining
- Governance of deep-sea resources
- Development of green, „zero waste“ processing methods for oxide deposits, manganese nodules and ferromanganese crusts
Work Package 1: Resource Assessment of Marine Mineral Deposits
The increasing demand for resources and declining discoveries on land are encouraging the search for metals in the oceans. Governments and commercial enterprises have applied for, and mostly received, extensive licenses for exploration of marine minerals, and expectations are running high that a deep-sea mining industry is about to emerge. At the same time, major concerns have been raised about the likely environmental impacts and the need for stricter regulation. Among the challenges for the future will be finding resources that can be developed without irreversible consequences for the oceans.
For most marine mineral prospects there is still a lack of detail with respect to deposit characteristics (size, grade distribution, depth extent, surface roughness, sediment cover, metallurgy, environmental sensitivity, etc.) and a corresponding low confidence in the resource estimations. Public institutions are performing the due diligence on many exploration claims. But current seabed mining and exploration licenses in The Area cover only 1 million km 2 , with another 2 million km 2 in EEZs, leaving more than 360 million km 2 of ocean floor – 99% of the oceans – virtually unexplored. At the same time more than 100 submissions have now been made by 83 different countries to the Commission on the Limits to the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS). New technology and guidelines for the exploration of these seabed areas will also be urgently needed as claims to the ECS are granted and individual countries begin the huge task of assessing their resource potential.
To establish whether sufficient marine resources are available to sustain a new global industry, a proper assessment is needed at a much larger scale, most likely involving a coordinated international effort. Work Package 1 will develop new multi-scale geological models of the seabed and its contained mineral resources to guide exploration, increase discovery rates, and decrease exploration costs. The goal is to create the models and workflows for identifying and assessing resources in vast unexplored areas of the seabed more efficiently and effectively, focusing on what to explore for and where to deploy expensive search tools. To date, the "discovery" of marine mineral resources has been driven by the legacy of exploration by academic or government surveys. Mining licenses and exploration contracts currently exist only in areas where deposits were already known and therefore were perceived to have the greatest mineral potential. Those opportunities have been exhausted, and new techniques are required for exploration in the vast areas of the oceans where no prior work has been done.
The three main resources of interest in the deep sea are Mn nodules (areas outlined by ellipses), Co-rich crusts (black squares), and seafloor massive sulphide deposits (red and yellow). In reality, we have no comprehensive or systematic knowledge of the global mineral potential, and so far, we have only considered 3 types of mineral deposits (nodules, crusts, and sulphides), even though metal mining on land encompasses more than 50 different mineral deposit types.
The scale of the problem: The illustration shows the extent of the current exploration licenses in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in comparison to the area of Europe. A vast effort of exploration is required to perform a meaningful resource assessment at this scale.
- Schema for Resource Assessment Work Packages.
Work Package 2: Transdisciplinary research for deep-sea-minig
For quite some time, the topic of mining marine mineral resources from the deep ocean has largely been considered from geological, resource, ecological, and environmental viewpoints. However, with the increasing awareness that to achieve sustainable development, economic and societal criteria must also be met, it has become apparent that future development in deep-ocean mining must be multifaceted, including environmental impact, technical challenges, impacts on societies and cultures including social license to mine, and economic challenges and consequences. This includes resistance and acceptance of this new technology by different entities (NGOs, communities, States, individuals), technical and economic feasibility of deep-ocean mining, and other economic impacts of deep-ocean mining. Many of these issues are linked and may also create so-called spillover effects reaching beyond the direct impact of deep-ocean mining. Challenges, questions, and solutions associated to these issues can only be targeted in a holistic approach and by applying transdisciplinary research methods.
In order to achieve these goals, WP2 will require cooperation of scientists from many different disciplines including geosciences, social sciences, economics, law and political sciences and intense exchange with NGOs, authorities, and the public.
NGOs, international organizations, United Nations, States, Environmental organizations,
and many other stakeholders will contribute to the discussion and advancement of deep-ocean mining
Work Package 3: Pilot Mining Test
The German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) holds a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for the exploration of polymetallic manganese nodules in the equatorial NE-Pacific. Since 2006 BGR has conducted several exploration cruises to the license area and has gathered a large amount of data about the geological resources, the local micromorphology, the regional sediment facies, the nodule metal composition, the biodiversity and the environmental conditions in this study area. The exploration license will expire in 2021. In order to apply for a (provisional) mining license after the exploration license expires tests of different technology principles for the mining of Mn nodules have to be carried out and evaluated. This pilot mining test could be embedded in a pre-feasibility study, which will be based on the specific geological, technical, economic, financial and ecological data which have been gathered.
Structure and timeline for an anticipated pilot mining test for manganese nodule mining
Work package 3 of the strategic KDM group should contribute to the pilot mining test by gathering information and expertise on the following topics:
- Geological conditions of the test site
- Logistical conditions of the test site
- Content and shaping of a pilot mining test (testing of complete mining structures combined with component testing in terms of a “proof of concept”:
(1) which design of a collector system should be tested;
(2) what components should be included and individually tested;
(3) which principles should be tested;
(4) which kind of energy supply is most suitable;
(5) which kind of buffer and vertical transport should be used;
(6) which amount of nodule ore should be mined;
- Environmental monitoring programs
- Economic viability of deep-sea mining test
- Embedding of the test operations in an international program and/or international co-operation
- Organizational and management approach of the mining test; defined steps of preparation
- Costs (budget) and financing of the PMT.
Work Package 4: Environmental Issues of Deep-Sea-MiningMining of mineral ores in the deep sea will remove the inhabited surface of the seafloor together with its fauna and may create sediment plumes that will spread with ocean currents blanketing areas of the adjacent untouched seafloor and potentially releasing toxic substances to (or adsorbing nutrients from) the near-bottom water column. Besides these direct impacts, the deep-sea ecosystem may be affected on larger scales by the loss of key species, biodiversity, and interruption of the gene flow. The extent of these impacts will in turn define the time-scales required for recolonization of the directly impacted areas and the overall recovery of the ecosystem. In mined manganese nodule areas, a completely new ecosystem needs to establish, because the original hardground habitat (nodules) no longer exists, whereas with mining of ferromanganese crusts and seafloor massive sulfides hardground habitats will remain for recolonization. Impacts of massive sulfide mining will differ from those of nodule and crust mining because of the much smaller affected surface area, and should active sites be mined, the more dynamic nature of vent ecosystems.
Pictures taken at the seafloor of the Peru Basin in the DISCOL area before and up to 26 years after the disturbance;
the bottom right picture was taken during cruise SO242 as part of the JPI-Oceans project ‘MiningImpact’.
WP4 will assess the temporal and spatial scales of the mining impact on the deep-sea environment, develop standards and protocols for such an assessment, discuss technical innovations and strategies for spatial planning that can help minimize the environmental impact, and analyze the establishment of marine protected areas, such as the Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEI) around the nodule license areas in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. In order to achieve these goals, WP4 will collaborate with and build on results of currently running projects, such as the JPI Oceans Pilot action “Ecological Aspects of Deep-Sea Mining” and the EU project MIDAS. For massive sulfide mining, activities in the German license area in the Indian Ocean and of Nautilus in the Solwara I field offshore Papua Neuguinea are of major interest for WP4.
Sediment disturbance experiment carried out during JPI-O cruise SO242 with an ROV to mimic and monitor
the sediment plume potentially created by manganese nodule mining; the picture shows the plume 30 minutes after the impact.
Work Package 5: Relationships to larger projectsIODP - the International Ocean Discovery Program - which promotes activities to understand how mineral resources form and fluids move between the mantle, crust, and Earth’s surface.
- InterRidge, which promotes interdisciplinary, international studies of oceanic spreading centers.
International affiliations with scholars working in related fields:
- Chris German is Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA and one of most influencial and successful explorers of submarine hydrothermal vents and massive sulfide deposits. Chris German has current collaborations with Hannington and Petersen (global assessment of hydrothermal metal resources in the seabed) and Bach (water column surveys in the Arctic).
- Cornel de Ronde is Principal Scientist at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science) in Lower Hutt, New Zealand and has spearheaded hydrothermal exploration in intraoceanic arcs in the past 20 years. Cornel de Ronde collaborates with Koschinsky, Haase, and Bach to examine metallogenesis in arc volcanoes using scientific drilling and ROVs.
Andrea Koschinsky (Jacobs University Bremen)
Mark Hannington (GEOMAR Kiel)
James R. Hein (US Geological Survey)
Karsten Haase (University of Erlangen)
Matthias Haeckel (GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel)
Peter Halbach (Free University of Berlin)
Sven Petersen (GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel)
Thomas Kuhn (German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources Hannover)
Ulrich Schwarz-Schampera (German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources Hannover)
Wolfgang Bach (University of Bremen)
Links of interest to Deep-Sea Mining
- JPI Oceans Ecological Impacts of Deep-Sea Mining Pilot Action
- JPI Ecological Impacts of Deep-Sea Mining project hompage (GEOMAR & Partners)
- Underwater Mining Conference
- International Marine Minerals Society
- International Seabed Authority
Feature papers of the special issue Marine Minerals for the open access journal Minerals.