Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Deep Sea Mining

Investigating the environmental impact of mining mineral resources from deep ocean seabeds

As industry prepares to mine mineral resources from the world’s deep ocean seabeds, the NIOZ department of Ocean Systems takes part in international scientific research on the environmental impact of deep-sea mining.

Mineral resources

The seabed of the deep ocean basins constitutes the largest natural area on earth, beyond the reach of fisheries and offshore industry, and remote from human population. This may soon change as the international mining industry is preparing to start exploitation of mineral resources from the deep sea.

Industry is particularly interested in polymetallic nodules found at the bottom of the deep ocean basins, massive sulphide deposits around hydrothermal vents, polymetallic crusts on rocky seabed of seamounts, and phosphorite deposits along the margins of ocean basins.

These deep-sea mineral resources could serve as an additional source for strategically important but scarce resources found on land.

Environmental impact

However, serious concerns exist about long-lasting or even permanent damage that mining activities might inflict on deep-sea environments. Besides stripping the seabed surface layer, including its biota, harmful effects are expected from the plumes of fine-grained sediments stirred up from the seabed and from mining waste discarded in the marine environment, as well as from underwater noise produced by mining ships and submerged heavy machinery.

The NIOZ department of Ocean Systems (OCS) takes part in international scientific research directed at the impact of deep-sea mining. Important research questions concern the intensity of the impact and to what extent the impact is of a permanent nature or whether a return to the original state may occur.

In collaboration with partners from the maritime industry, OCS investigates possibilities to reduce the impact from deep-sea mining to an acceptable minimum and methods are developed to monitor impact during operations.

Deep Sea Science & Technology Centre

NIOZ has brought together researchers from various scientific disciplines and our National Marine Facilities Department to form the Netherlands Deep Sea Science & Technology Centre. In this way, we can respond better to questions and problems related to the deep sea. The centre has knowledge of potentially threatened ecosystems, physical and chemical conditions at great depths, but also of deep sea and seabed microbiology. It also has expertise in the fields of geology and geochemistry. For more information about NIOZ deep-sea activities, please contact prof. dr. Gert-Jan Reichart or ir. Marck Smit.

A brochure about the centre can be downloaded here.

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