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Sketch showing the environmental and social concerns associated with the mining operation (blue), the processing of the mined material (gray, not covered in the present article), and on land (green) in the context of maritime zones as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982). Source: Koschinsky et al., 2018. Deep‐sea mining: Interdisciplinary research on potential environmental, legal, economic, and societal implications. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 14(6), pp 672-691, First published: 19 June 2018, DOI: (10.1002/ieam.4071)

Marine mineral deposits: Formation, resource potential, and environmental and societal implications of deep-sea mining

Prof Andrea Koschinsky  |  Professor of Geosciences  |   Jacobs University Bremen

Abstract: Deep-sea mining refers to the retrieval of marine mineral resources such as manganese nodules, ferromanganese crusts and seafloor massive sulfide deposits, which contain a variety of metals that serve as crucial raw materials for a range of industrial applications. Ore grades are largely much higher in the deep-sea deposits than in most land-bound deposits that are still available today. Trying to understand the economic, environmental, social and legal implications of commercial deep-sea mining operations remains a challenge due to the complexity of direct impacts and spill-over effects. Mining the seafloor would directly destroy habitats, remove the substrate for sessile organisms, and could create sediment plumes covering fauna and creating turbidity in the water column. However, as long as the exploitation of metal-bearing resources is unavoidable, deep-sea mining may potentially offer a more sustainable alternative to land-based mining, which nowadays often takes place in remote areas with fragile ecosystems.

In my talk, I will present the chances and challenges of deep-sea mining and point out the need for a joint international approach of natural and social sciences as well as interactions with other stakeholders  (governments, NGOs, companies, and regulating authorities) to ensure maximum chances at minimal risk for environment, society and economy. This includes continued research on environmental impact, societal and economic risks and chances and synergistic and spill-over effects as well as pilot mining tests and risk assessments to assess the industrial-scale impact of deep-sea mining.