Seabed explorer spends $75M on research

IN THE face of huge opposition from Pacific island nations, undersea explorer DeepGreen Metals has launched a new phase of a $75 million research campaign designed to measure the potential environmental impact of extracting deep-sea polymetallic nodules.
Seabed explorer spends $75M on research Seabed explorer spends $75M on research Seabed explorer spends $75M on research Seabed explorer spends $75M on research Seabed explorer spends $75M on research

Gerard Barron

Staff Reporter

DeepGreen said its "environmental expedition 4E phase" would aim to retrieve, recalibrate and redeploy three mooring installations in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean, where its research has focused.
Expedition 4E follows expedition 5D, which focused on deep-sea food chains, biodiversity, geochemistry, and nutrient cycles within the CCZ's NORI-D contract area.
The expedition will be led by CSA Ocean Sciences, which specialises in multidisciplinary environmental impact assessments
Three different lander systems launched from the Maersk Launcher will be used to collect data on the biodiversity and nutrients available on the seafloor.
The company said data is being gathered to build a model of the ecosystem to decide on equipment and systems that minimise disruption to the deep-sea environment.
"It's our mission to put forward a rigorous, peer-reviewed environmental impact statement to the International Seabed Authority and to set a high bar for this new industry," said Gerard Barron, The Metals Company chairman and CEO.
DeepGreen Metals said it is expected to merge with Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corporation and be renamed The Metals Company.
Dr Andrew Sweetman, professor and leading researcher of deep-sea ecology and biogeochemistry at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, said: "My team and I undertook [seabed] lander operations to gather the best environmental data that we could."
Experts from institutions including the UK National Oceanography Centre, London's Natural History Museum, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and Texas A and M are taking part in the company's research in an independent capacity.
Meanwhile, hundreds of scientists, and coalitions of churches, environmentalists, and NGOs are part of a widespread outcry calling for a ban on seabed mining, following a political move that may open the gates for it to begin in the Pacific in two years.
In July, the fledgling deep sea mining sector got a green light for future mining in the Pacific by 2023, due to Nauru setting a "two-year" rule in motion at the International Seabed Authority.
The Authority, tasked with regulating the seabed, confirmed Nauru triggered a clause that would allow mining to begin in two years within its Exclusive Economic Zone, Radio New Zealand International reported.
However, some fear the move could have opened the path for a domino-effect and other countries could also open their doors to the controversial new industry.
A wide cross-section of Pacific organisations have called on Nauru to reconsider its decision, including the Pacific Council of Churches, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-governmental Organisations and the Pacific Network on Globalisation.
Pacific Network on Globalisation coordinator Maureen Penjueli said there were mounting concerns the industry could exploit the region.
Bloomberg news has reported that the ambitions of DeepGreen, came with "deep risks".
It said the company had pitched the mining as gentle ocean floor excavations that would provide minerals for electric car batteries, as well as large profits. However, it reported the company's previous operations had created "political and financial leverage over its partners, who are dependent on its expertise", and will be on the hook to ensure it complies with international environmental rules.
The report said the area of ocean the company wanted to mine could be one of the most diverse and rich in biological life on the planet.
DeepGreen did not respond to Radio New Zealand's questions.
However, Barron earlier said the metals that would be mined are vital for the batteries needed for a zero-carbon economy.
He said the nodules which the metals are found in can be plucked from the surface of the ocean floor without drilling, digging or blasting, and with less toxic tailings and other damage compared to other mining techniques.
On his LinkedIn page, Barron makes the following comments: "Transitioning to clean energy requires hundreds of millions of tons of metals - particularly nickel, copper, cobalt, and manganese - for the batteries needed to store this energy.
"This is where DeepGreen comes in. Land mining today requires digging deeper and wider for lower-quality ores, devastating biodiverse ecosystems in the process. We have found a better way: polymetallic nodules on the seafloor in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, 4km deep, which contain rich concentrations of these base metals.
"As stewards of these rocks, we have baselined the environment, from seafloor to surface, to study the impacts of collecting them. Joining forces with leading engineers, scientists, and architects, we now have the capability to recover these remarkable rocks with the lightest planetary impact," said Barron.
But environmental group Pacific Blue Line collective said the operations would cause irreversible and widespread harm to the environment, and the species and habitat that could be affected are irreplaceable.
"The Collective believes the Nauru Government has been persuaded by DeepGreen to take this action on the pretext that the urgency of the climate crisis demands the commencement of mining in two years, without regard for the potentially wide-ranging environmental damage arising from deep sea mining.
"The damage could see the Nauru government, future administrations, and Nauruan people face liability for environmental consequences that cannot be foreseen or appreciated at this stage."
Pacific Blue Line Collective said potential economic gains from deep sea mining were "highly speculative and unsubstantiated", and the damage could put economic strain on Pacific nations.
"In the Pacific, one of the major concerns is the impact of mining upon coastal communities. Deep seabed mining would likely cause massive sediment plumes that could affect crucial tuna and other fish stocks, thus further destabilizing livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of ocean-dependent people and communities.
"The Pacific Ocean is already under mounting pressure from human activities and the impacts of climate change, and there is substantial evidence that we need to now be embarking on an era of restoration, not further reckless exploitation."
Greenpeace called the growing interest in deep sea mining a "disturbing new threat". It said DeepGreen was spearheading the movement, and the Rainbow Warrior had been tracking their operations, among others.
The organisation claimed another mining company recently lost a 25-tonne robot while carrying out seabed testing.
Victor Pickering, a Greenpeace activist from Fiji who has been among the Rainbow Warrior crew said the Pacific environment should be guarded carefully.
"The ocean provides food for our families and connects all of us Pacific islands from one island to another.
"I am taking action because our people, our land, are already facing the threats of extreme storms, rising sea levels, plastic pollution and industrially depleted fish populations. I cannot stay silent and watch another threat - deep sea mining - take away our future."
Pacific Blue Line collective warned that the clause activated at the International Seabed Authority allows sponsor states such as Nauru to jump-start the mining process by invoking a rule that sets a deadline for finalising and adopting mining laws and regulations, which will be set up after global negotiation.
It said that if the global community failed to agree to mining laws and regulations, DeepGreen or its Nauru subsidiary NORI would be able to proceed to mine based on work plans submitted.