News / Asia

Ocean Floor is Prime Target of Mining Industry

This undated photo shows a diver off Australia's coast.
This undated photo shows a diver off Australia's coast.
Phil Mercer
There has been a new call for the incoming government in Papua New Guinea to stop the Canadian mining company Nautilus from going ahead with a deep sea mining project.  Conservationists say most mining projects in the country have been an environmental disaster.  In recent years, there has been a rush by companies to explore the sea floor for concentrated deposits of valuable minerals found around hydrothermal vents.


The next great frontier for the mining industry could be hydrothermal vents that lie deep on the ocean floor.  The super-hot flues create deposits of sulfide, which contain precious metals such as gold, silver, copper and zinc.
 
Chris Yeats, an ore deposit geologist at Australia's state-sponsored scientific and research organization, CSIRO, believes that plans by Nautilus Minerals, which has a license to mine sulfide on the floor of the Bismarck Sea off Papua New Guinea, will be safe and productive.
 
"The activities that Nautilus are proposing are something like plowing a field or raking your garden, that you're, you're, you're stirring up the environment, but you're not fundamentally changing it," said Yeats.

Nautilus has not commented on its plans, nor on calls for authorities in Papua New Guinea to abandon the deep sea project, which would involve sophisticated marine technology.
 
Stefan Williams from the University of Sydney's Australian Center for Field Robotics is helping exploration companies peer into the dark depths of the ocean.  
 
"One of the main challenges obviously [is] the environment, then pressures that are associated with depths, so actually getting equipment into deep water it has to be designed to withstand those kinds of pressures and corrosive environment of saltwater," said Williams.   

His work on vehicles capable of high-resolution surveys of the sea floor is casting light on a mysterious world.

"There's not a lot down there.  It's kind of a big, muddy flat plain for the most part but then you come across some weird and wonderful sea life, things [you] just don't know what to make of - pretty astounding," explained Williams.
 
Asked whether he thinks this is an area ripe for exploration in the future, Williams was optimistic.
 
"I think so.  There are a lot of areas of the ocean that we don't know a lot about," he said.  "Some people have suggested we know a lot more about the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean just because it's something we can see.  And so I think there will be good opportunities for extensive exploration and understanding what resources are available in these deep-sea environments and the possibility, I guess, of exploiting those in the future."      
 
Cindy Lee Van Dover, a professor of biological oceanography, has explored almost all of the world's hydrothermal vent fields.  Chains of these mineral-rich outlets lie along fault lines, including the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
 
She says that the precise impact of deep-sea mining needs to be known before the exploitation of such valuable resources can begin.
 
"If mining of extraction of metals on the seabed takes place, we'd like to know what happens and how quickly the animals come back," she said.  "We'd like to work with industry to understand what baselines we really need to put in place to be able to monitor the change as the animals come back and recolonize.  If one site recovers from mining very quickly in a matter of years or decades, maybe that's not such a bad thing, but we need to understand how to know that."   
 
Seabed mining used to be far too expensive to be worthwhile, but there are concerns from conservationists that advances in technology, making mining more feasible, pose a threat to the world's oceans.
 
The success or failure of the Nautilus deep sea project is seen as crucial to the future of deep-sea mining, according to Charles Roche, the executive director of the Australia-based Mineral Policy Institute.
 
"This is not going to be a bonanza," said Roche.  "It is going to be a very small mine actually, especially compared to some of the larger terrestrial mines.  It's really a trial mine.  It's an experimental one that the locals in Papua New Guinea like to call it that they are guinea pigs - that it's an experimental mine.  So really this is about proving the technology and the concept.  What they are trying to do is prove that we can extract the minerals from the bottom of the sea and it is economically viable."    

The first commercial deep-sea mine is expected to begin in Papua New Guinea next year and exploration is booming across the South Pacific and in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
 
International regulators set up by the United Nations have signed four new contracts with groups looking to explore the ocean floor.  This includes agreements with government and private organizations from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid