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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid