Ecological aspects of deep-sea mining | JPI OCEANS

Ecological aspects of deep-sea mining

Joint Action Facts
Action period: February 2013 - February 2022
Funding: € 13,200,000
Strategic area:
  • Exploring the Deep-Sea
Type of action:
  • Accessing or sharing of marine infrastructures
  • Procedures or agreements for transnational access and sharing of infrastructures
Lead countries:
  • Germany
More Information
Secretariat Contact:

John Hanus

E-mail: hanus@deutsche-meeresforschung.de

Tel. +32 (0) 2 733 89 48

About

The JPI Oceans action 'Ecological aspects of deep-sea mining' aims at assessing the long-term impacts of polymetallic nodule mining on the deep-sea environment. Core of the action is the research project MiningImpact 2 project which gathers 32 partners from 10 different countries and will conduct an independent scientific monitoring of the impact of an industrial test to harvest manganese nodules in the Clarion Clipperton Zone. 

This MiningImpact 2 project will follow up on the results of the first JPI Oceans supported MiningImpact project 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. 

Objectives

The MiningImpact 2 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
 

Impact

The first research project 'MiningImpact' improved the understanding of deep-sea ecosystems and the impact of mining thereon. The project has not only attracted interest from the the G7 Science Ministers in their Communiqué from October 2015, but is also delivering input into the development of the international Mining Code (set of regulations for the exploitation of polymetallic nodules in the deep seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction), which the International Seabed Authority is in the process of negotiating. At the 22nd Session of the Authority in July 2016, MiningImpact presented these results in order to ensure that the international deep sea mining regime is built on a solid scientific basis and the best available knowledge.

In general, the cost-effective joint use of research infrastructure has facilitated the development of a common understanding and integration of national research activities around a common scientific objective. It has also enabled more effective collective European contributions to international policy-making.

Scientists involved in the project also published the results from the recent research campaign in Nature's Scientific Reports, demonstrating that polymetallic nodule fields are hotspots of abundance and diversity for a highly vulnerable abyssal fauna. 

The scientific findings of the project were:
  • Nodule ecosystems support a highly diverse fauna of sessile and mobile species.
  • Faunal communities & environmental parameters show a high variability even on a very local spatial scale.
  • Benthic fauna communities differ significantly between seamounts and nodule habitats.
  • Loss of seafloor integrity by nodule and sediment removal generally reduces population densities and ecosystem functions. Biogeochemical remineralization processes and the productivity of the benthic community are both impacted by nodule removal.
  • Disturbance impacts on nodule ecosystems last for many decades, affect numerous ecosystem compartments and functions

 

More details can be found on the final results overview of the project. 

The second project, MiningImpact 2 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 International Seabed Authority 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.

Background

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.
 
MiningImpact 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.
Publications joint actions

Boetius, A. and Haeckel, M. Mind the seafloor, Science; DOI 10.1126/science.aap7301 (2018)

Brown, A., et al. A comparative experimental approach to ecotoxicology in shallow-water and deep-sea holothurians suggests similar behavioural responses, Aquatic Toxicology; DOI 10.1016/j.aquatox.2017.06.028 (2017)

Dumke, I., et al. First hyperspectral imaging survey of the deep seafloor: high-resolution mapping of manganese nodules. Remote Sensing of Environment; DOI 10.1016/j.rse.2018.02.024 (2018).

Peukert, A., et al. Understanding Mn-nodule distribution and evaluation of related deep-sea mining impacts using AUV-based hydroacoustic and optical data, Biogeosciences (BG); DOI 10.5194/bg-15-2525-2018. (2018)

Purser, A., Marcon, Y., Hoving, H. J. T., Vecchione, M., Piatkowski, U., Eason, D., Bluhm, H. and Boetius, A. (2016) Association of deep-sea incirrate octopods with manganese crusts and nodule fields in the Pacific Ocean Current Biology, 26 (24). R1268-R1269. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.052 

Schoening, T., et al. Compact-Morphology-based poly-metallic Nodule Delineation, Scientific Reports; DOI 10.1038/s41598-017-13335-x (2017)

Schoening, T., et al. Fully automated image segmentation for benthic resource assessment of poly-metallic nodules, Methods in Oceanography; DOI 10.1016/j.mio.2016.04.002 (2016)

Schoening, T., et al. RecoMIA - Recommendations for Marine Image Annotation: Lessons Learned and Future Directions, Frontiers in Marine Science; DOI 10.3389/fmars.2016.00059 (2016)

Stratmann, T., et al. Has Phytodetritus Processing by an Abyssal Soft-Sediment Community Recovered 26 Years after an Experimental Disturbance?, Frontiers in Marine Science; DOI 10.3389/fmars.2018.00059 (2018)

Vanreusel, A., Hilario, A., Ribeiro, P. A., Menot, L. and Arbizu, P. M. (2016) Threatened by mining, polymetallic nodules are required to preserve abyssal epifauna Scientific Reports, 6 (26808). DOI 10.1038/srep26808 

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