With the depletion of easily accessible mineral resources on land, the search for new ways to procure valuable metals is taking on new frontiers.
In addition to the recent push for asteroid mining, an increasing amount of attention is also being placed on mining ocean based resources. According to the New York Times, rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, cobalt, lead, zinc and other valuable minerals are found in abnormally high percentages in the “Black Smokers,” which are sulfurous vents found in volcanic areas throughout the ocean.
An ocean mining company, Nautilus, has found a single site in the Bismarck Sea with 10 tons of gold and 125 tons of copper. Across the world, prospectors are finding trillions of dollars worth of deposits in these and other metals. In addition to the US and China, India is also jumping in on the race for mining the resources of the sea.
Advancements in ocean-based mining could revolutionize the marketplace of today. While the technology for mining these deep sea deposits is still being developed, tapping the resources of the sea is a lot more promising (and less complicated) than harvesting asteroids. If Nautilus succeeds in profitably extracting the gold and copper from their claim, other companies would likely join in the race to find and harvest the most profitable deposits. In scale, this could devastate the metals markets and provide a massive boon to manufacturing firms dependent on metal prices.
Among the many potential losers in this race could be environmental concerns. There are many unique and understudied species found in the deep ocean vents. If not done carefully, mining companies could endanger many of these species before scientists really get a chance to study them. On the plus side environmentally, cheap metals harvested from the sea could make land-based methods obsolete or unprofitable, which could in turn alleviate some of the stresses currently felt in land-based ecosystems. Also, we are likely to increase our knowledge of these ocean based ecosystems as a result of the increased attention paid to deep sea mining operations.
Clearly there is a lot at stake and a fair amount at risk on this new frontier. Deep sea mining will be a great subject to monitor as it progresses in the future.