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28 Aug 2018
JPI Oceans project investigates the environmental impact of deep sea mining
32 partners from 10 different countries and will monitor the impact of an industrial test to harvest manganese nodules in the Clarion Clipperton Zone.
The second phase of the MiningImpact project will follow up on the results of the first JPI Oceans supported Pilot Action which was concluded in late December 2017. While the initial project investigated experimental and rather small disturbances of the seafloor over decadal timescales, the new project will set up a comprehensive monitoring programme to ensure an independent scientific investigation of the environmental impacts of an industrial component trial of a nodule collector system by the Belgian contractor DEME-GSR. Polymetallic nodules are mainly composed of manganese and iron oxides, but also contain economically valuable metals, such as nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium, and rare earth elements.
 
The DEME-GSR collector test intends to harvest nodules in approx. 0.1 km2 large areas of the seabed in the Belgian and the German contract areas of the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Within the lifetime of MiningImpact2 researchers are planning two cruises (in 2019 and 2021) to the test areas in order to constrain the spatial and temporal dynamics of the sediment plume created by the mining test and impact on the abyssal environment. 
 
“The suspended sediment plume and its redeposition can potentially cause significant harm to the deep-sea ecosystem” according to the project coordinator, Dr Matthias Haeckel from GEOMAR. “Studying the impacts of an actual industrial mining test will significantly advance our scientific knowledge in this field. Moreover, with all our data and knowledge gathered that will be made publicly available, the project will help to deliver independent scientific input into the Exploitation Mining Code currently developed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA)”.
 
The project will further study regional connectivity of species in the deep-sea and their resilience to impacts, and the integrated effects on ecosystem functions, such as the benthic food-web and biogeochemical processes. In this context, key objectives of the project are: 
  • To develop and test monitoring concepts and strategies for deep-sea mining operations
  • To develop standardization procedures for monitoring and definitions for indicators of a good environmental status 
  • To investigate potential mitigation measures, such as spatial management plans of mining operations and means to facilitate ecosystem recovery
  • To develop sound methodologies to assess the environmental risks and estimate benefits, costs and risks
  • To explore how uncertainties in the knowledge of impacts can be implemented into appropriate regulatory frameworks
 
Thus, MiningImpact2 will be able to further close existing knowledge gaps and reduce uncertainties on the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining of polymetallic nodules. The project will specifically work towards policy recommendations and has reached out to the ISA to become a partner in the project. It will further contribute to the preparation of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for future European deep-sea pilot mining tests that are requested by the ISA, and to the Horizon2020 technology development projects Blue Atlantis and Blue Nodules. 
 

The last decade has seen a steady increase of interest in deep-sea mining to secure mankind’s future demands in raw materials. Several European countries, i.e. Belgium, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, and a consortium of former Soviet Union countries, have registered claims with the International Seabed Authority to explore mineral resources in the abyss. The ISA is currently developing its international regulatory framework governing the exploitation of mineral seabed resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the “Mining Code”.

With deep-sea mining inevitably causing disturbances to abyssal ecosystems, because mineral deposits in focus cover extended areas of the inhabited seafloor that will be disturbed directly and indirectly by mining operations, it is important that international legislation is based on the best available knowledge. JPI Oceans aims to contribute to the development of the Mining Code by filling knowledge gaps in the field. 
 
With the initial MiningImpact project JPI Oceans has successfully demonstrated how integrated scientific research can be organized in a European transdisciplinary research project and how marine research infrastructure available at the various institutes across Europe can be utilized efficiently in order to tackle deep-sea research questions and contribute to the shaping of international regulations. 
 
In August 2017, several JPI Oceans Member countries launched a joint call for proposals to study the environmental impacts and risks associated with seabed mining. This call was conducted as a follow-up of the Pilot Action under the framework of JPI Oceans, and again making use of the availability of RV SONNE in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone. Following international peer review the second MiningImpact proposal was selected for funding.
 
Funding support to this new MiningImpact project, which exclusively focuses on studying the impacts on and risks for the marine environment, does not imply that JPI Oceans or its Member Countries either endorse or disapprove of seafloor mining and related operations.
 
MiningImpact2 is conducted independently of DEME-GSR activities. DEME-GSR is responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions for its operations and does not receive any funding from the MiningImpact project. Neither does the MiningImpact project receive any financial contributions from DEME-GSR. DEME-GSR is further responsible to set up a monitoring programme for its industrial component trial as required by the International Seabed Authority. 
 
Funding for the project was provided under the framework of JPI Oceans by: 
  • Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and Flanders EWI Department, Belgium
  • The Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), Germany
  • Research Council of Norway (RCN), Norway
  • The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), The Netherlands
  • Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) - EurOcean Member - and Direção-Geral de Política do Mar (DGPM), Portugal

To learn more about MiningImpact2 please click here.

Deep sea mining was the hot topic of two workshops organised by EurOcean in 2018 within the context of the H2020 MARINA project. These events were dedicated to the role that Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) can play in order to make sure any decisions about potential future deep sea mining activities take in consideration Public Engagement, Open Access, Science Education, Ethics, and Gender Equality in order to develop a new Governance model. The aim of such events was to promote the discussion in-between various stakeholders in order to achieve a common vision that would work as the base for a road map able to assist those in charge of deciding the future of deep sea mining. You can learn more about the outcomes in the MARINA platform where a growing community has free access to all the materials, results and outcomes.

EurOcean and its Member FRCT are also organising an open event about deep sea research to take place in São Miguel, Azores in October 2018. Learn more here.

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