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Seabed Mining

By Varun Bisht

Nobody knows what the sea hides in its murky waters. Nobody knows about the life in the dark, or the countless galleon carcasses laden with jewels and gold, that rest in its depths. But there is something far more precious under the waves than the treasures of sunken ships. Metals, minerals and other rare natural resources cover the ocean floor, in unfathomable quantity and concentration. Don’t worry if you missed the gold rush, for a second one might be heading your way.

But before we sign you up, lets take a look at the resources one can obtain from this underwater treasure trove. Manganese nodules, Copper and Nickel line the ocean floor like a bed of stones. Regions such as the Clarion Clipperton Zone to the west of Hawaii, contains approximately 27 billion tonnes of these nodules. Cobalt is present in the seabed crust, while sulphide deposits are found alongside hydrothermal vents. Another substance, Tellurium ( found off the coast of the Canary Islands ), is a key component in the construction of solar panels, and has a vital role in meeting the world’s growing requirement for green energy. Found very rarely on ground, Tellurium’s concentration underwater is 50,000 times its concentration on land; mining it guarantees a sustainable future, benefiting the human race for generations to come.

Ironic as it is, the Earth is the only one on the losing end of the bargain. Underwater mining will be using machinery that churns the seabed into a slurry (vacuuming it through tubes to the deck of the ship above, where the resource is harvested, and the residue dumped back into the ocean), destroying the ecosystems it supports. Hydrothermal vents are especially vulnerable ( The bacteria they host can be destroyed by a minute rise in surrounding temperatures), making sulphide mining a lethal enterprise. Tellurium mining is expected to leave behind clouds of sand, choking all marine life in the vicinity. Furthermore, the use and maintenance of heavy robotic machinery to mine the ocean floor is expected to be just as heavy on the pockets as it is will be on the ocean’s ecology. And what if a storm were to strike the facility, severing all connections to the main control ship? Would companies risk the occasional hazard for immense profit, or would they sail to calmer water and risk losing vital resources?

2019 will answer all our questions; as that year, Nautilus Deep Sea Mining, a Canadian organisation, starts operations on its mine around the Hydrothermal vents that call the waters of Papua New Guinea home. Not only will this open new doors in marine technology, but is also guaranteed to spark a debate on how far can we stretch nature’s elastic limit to create room for our development, without it snapping…

Rohil Bahl