Heavy Construction News – Charting riches in the ocean’s depths — ScienceDaily

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Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have previously estimated that the Norwegian continental shelf may contain a great wealth of minerals and metals. Now they suggest Norway take steps to clarify the industrial potential of mineral extraction from the seabed.

In September, a research ship returned to Norway from the Arctic waters between Jan Mayen and Svalbard, where its crew spent three weeks collecting mineral samples and data. The research cruise is part of the MarMine project. MarMine was established by NTNU to investigate the potential for seafloor mineral extraction. MarMine is supported by the Research Council of Norway and several leading Norwegian players in the offshore industry and land-based mining.

Copper, zinc, gold and silver

The expedition travelled to the Mohns Ridge area, north of Jan Mayen in the Norwegian Sea. The University of Bergen, among others, has conducted research charting geological formations along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that may be very rich in copper, zinc, gold and silver.

The research vessel was loaded with various underwater vehicles with which to collect data. In addition, robots drilled cores in the seabed and did geological and biological sampling at the seabed site.

“The data and samples from this expedition will form the basis for research on various technological aspects related to seafloor mineral extraction. The expedition will test previous resource estimates, and the data will enable new estimates to be made,” says MarMine project leader Kurt Aasly. He is an associate professor at NTNU’s Department of Geology and Mineral Resources Engineering.

The researchers believe that this research cruise has collected data for at least four years of study on various related issues.

Huge global interest

Interest in seabed minerals is huge, and Japan, South Korea, China, India, Germany, Russia and France have already established large national programmes to explore the potential for seafloor mineral extraction.

“Norway is a nation with a long tradition and great expertise in the maritime industry, marine research, offshore oil and gas,” says Martin Ludvigsen, expedition leader and professor at the Department of Marine Technology.

Ludvigsen and his colleagues from NTNU’s AMOS, the Centre for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems, have recently published a paper describing the different kinds of tools that are under development at AMOS to explore and map the seabed — and that researchers tested on the recent mapping cruise.

He thinks that Norway “should take greater advantage of these marine minerals in order not to be left behind. If we don’t, we could miss valuable possibilities and related industrial development,” he says.

Cutting-edge expertise

The transfer of expertise from both oil and gas extraction and land-based mining can help position Norway well in this potential new industry.

“Norwegian oil companies have built up cutting-edge expertise in the oil and gas industry that could prove useful for Norway if the mineral resources on the seabed turn out to warrant developing them as an industry,” says Aasly.

“The service and supply industry can also help strengthen our position as it develops into an important support market. For suppliers, this market could be important even if it turns out that the resource base isn’t commercially viable in the Norwegian Economic Zone,” Aasly adds.

The development of a new industry in seafloor minerals will require resource mapping, technology development, and further development of a management plan and the environment.

“This is a capital-intensive exercise that can be tough for industry to carry out alone. You have to put a national strategy and commitment into place, like happened when the groundwork of the petroleum adventure was laid in the 1960s and 70s,” says Ludvigsen.

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Heavy Construction News – Newly discovered ‘Casper’ octopod at risk from deep-sea mining — ScienceDaily

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Last spring, researchers made headlines with the discovery of what was surely a new species of octopod, crawling along the seafloor at a record-breaking ocean depth of more than 4,000 meters (about 2.5 miles) off Necker Island near Hawaii. The octopod’s colorless and squishy appearance immediately inspired the nickname “Casper.” Now, a report published in Current Biology on December 19 reveals that these ghost-like, deep-sea octopods lay their eggs on the dead stalks of sponges attached to seafloor nodules rich in the increasingly valuable metals used in cell phones and computers.

“Presumably, the female octopod then broods these eggs, probably for as long as it takes until they hatch — which may be a number of years,” says Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.

“The brooding observation is important as these sponges only grow in some areas on small, hard nodules or rocky crusts of interest to mining companies because of the metal they contain,” including manganese, he adds. “The removal of these nodules may therefore put the lifecycle of these octopods at risk.”

Purser explains that the deep-sea manganese nodules form similarly to pearls in an oyster. In a process that could take millions of years, metals gradually build up in rocky layers onto a small starting seed, perhaps a shell fragment or a shark’s tooth.

“These nodules look a bit like a potato, and are made up of rings of different shells of metal-rich layers,” Purser says. “They are interesting to companies as many of the metals contained are ‘high-tech’ metals, useful in producing mobile phones and other modern computing equipment, and most of the land sources of these metals have already been found and are becoming more expensive to buy.”

Purser says that little was known about the creatures found in the deep-sea environments where those attractive metals are found. In a series of recent cruises, the researchers set out to find the organisms that live there and to understand how the ecosystem and animals might be impacted by mining activities.

Their studies have shown that octopods are numerous in manganese crust areas, precisely where miners would hope to extract metals of interest. The mineral-biota association that they observed is a first for any octopod lacking fins (a group known as incirrate octopods), and it puts these captivating octopods, which live their long lives at a slow pace, at particular risk.

“As long-lived creatures, recovery will take a long time and may not be possible if all the hard seafloor is removed,” Purser says. “This would be a great loss to biodiversity in the deep sea and may also have important knock on effects. Octopods are sizable creatures, which eat a lot of other smaller creatures, so if the octopods are removed, the other populations will change in difficult to predict ways.”

Purser says that he and his colleagues continue to study the nodules and their importance to microbes and animals both small and large, including starfish, crabs, and fish.

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