Norwegian scientists in cooperation with a mining company have started a project examining the possibilities of deep-sea mining.
Mapping resources along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the team believes that as reserves of precious metals and other materials accessible from land are slowly running out, the technology and knowledge necessary to mine the ocean floor needs to be in place.
“Our primary goal is to map potential resources,” said Fredrik Søreide, an adjunct professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), who is leading the project, run jointly with Nordic Mining. “We can then prioritise research and development as we move ahead.”
Gathering samples from the seabed using remotely operated submarines, the team has already identified several locations along the ridge worth further exploration.
“We still have many years of data collection ahead of us,” Søreide said. “But I do believe that Norway, with all of its offshore experience, is in a good position to develop this potential. It is likely that the mining industry will move offshore eventually, the same way that the petroleum industry did.”
One Canadian company has already developed an advanced robotic technology system for deep-sea mining and plans to open the first deep-water mine in 2015, some 1600 metres below sea level.
Test operations at the Solwara site in the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia, were scheduled to start in 2013. Nautilus Minerals, the company responsible for the project has postponed the start due to protests of environmental activists.
“This is an extremely rich deposit of gold and copper,” said Terje Bjerkgård from the Norway’s Geological Survey (NGU), who participated in the research of mineral resources at the Solwara site.
“Underwater mining will become more viable as land-based deposits become harder and more expensive to exploit,” he said, explaining that protecting local fauna and flora will be the biggest challenge.
According to Bjerkgård, the resources in the depths of the Pacific Ocean are the most tempting as there are known abundant reserves in several locations off the coast of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Mining in the Atlantic is mostly of interest of Norway, France or Russia, wishing to build on their experience with deep sea extraction of oil.