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Is deep sea mining vital for a greener future – even if it destroys ecosystems?


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A new gold rush is targeting rich ores on the ocean floor containing valuable metals needed for smart phones and green technologies, but also hosting exotic ecosystems. Mining the deep ocean floor for valuable metals is both inevitable and vital, according to the scientists, engineers and industrialists exploring the world’s newest mining frontier. The special metals found in rich deposits there are critical for smart electronics and crucial green technologies, such as solar power and electric cars. But as the world’s population rises, demand is now outstripping the production from mines on land for some important elements. Those leading the global rush to place giant mining machines thousands of meters below the sea surface say the extraordinary richness of the underwater ores mean the environmental impacts will be far lower than on land. But critics say exotic and little-known ecosystems in the deep oceans could be destroyed and must be protected. Dozens of exploration licenses have already been granted for huge tracts of ocean floor and world leaders, including the G7 nations (pdf), have their eyes on the opportunities. But the rules to ensure the responsible exploitation of this global resource are still being written. The acid test is set to be the start of commercial sea bed mining, due to begin within two years, 1,600m below waters off Papua New Guinea. There, Nautilus Minerals plans to release three giant crawling machines to grind up rocks rich in copper, zinc and gold and pump the slurry up to a custom-built surface ship at a rate of over 3,000 tonnes a day. Oceans cover 70% of the planet and are relatively unexplored, says Mike Johnston, Nautilus’s chief executive: “It makes sense to explore this untapped potential in an environmentally sustainable way, instead of continually looking at the fast depleting land resources of the planet to meet society’s rising needs. The seafloor contains some of the largest known accumulations of metals essential for the green economy, in concentrations generally much higher than on land, so it is inevitable that we will eventually recover essential resources from the seafloor,” he said. Prof David Cronan, a geochemist at Imperial College London, agrees it will happen but is less certain when. “It is an inevitability – it’s just the timing that is in question. For the past 50 years it has been just over the horizon. But in the last five to 10 years there has been a step change – the realization that marine metals are likely to be useful.” The drive is not just about ensuring a growing supply of the latest new smart phones, says Bramley Murton, from the UK’s National Oceanography Centre. “It goes much further than that. To make a low-carbon future, we need these [metals] to make the technologies for green energy production. We need these raw materials to enable civilization to become more sustainable.” He says recycling is worthwhile, but insufficient.

Read More:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/04/is-deep-sea-mining-vital-for-greener-future-even-if-it-means-destroying-precious-ecosystems

Posted by on Jun 5 2017. Filed under News at Now. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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