Dutch research will supervise deep sea mining test

22 May 2018

Four Dutch researchers will participate in an international expedition about the environmental effects of deep sea mining. NWO is making 600,000 euros available for this as part of its contribution to the Top Sector Water.

JPI Oceans, the European platform for marine research is organising the international scientific voyage under the name ‘MiningImpact2’. This will study the environmental effects of deep sea mining. Due to the increasing worldwide demand for metals it will be investigated whether the mining of manganese nodules in the deep sea is feasible. These nodules are made up of a mixture of various metals and are found in large quantities in the deep sea. However, the environmental consequences of mining these are not known. The voyage will provide new scientific insights and make an important contribution to the establishment of international environmental guidelines for deep sea mining. It is expected that the expedition will take place during the first quarter of 2019.

Mining impact

The expedition MiningImpact2 will take measurements before, during and after the first commercial mining test ever for polymetallic nodules on the deep sea floor. The companies carrying out the test have agreed to the design of an independent scientific measurement programme. For this expedition, Germany has made the research vessel Sonne available free of charge and is therefore assuming responsibility for the majority of the costs.

MiningImpact2 is follow-up to a previous expedition (in Dutch) into deep sea mining areas that Dutch researchers also took part in. During this successful expedition ('MiningImpact1') measurements were made on intact and artificially disrupted deep sea systems. The outcomes of this expedition have already led to sensational publications (for example, in Nature) and international policy discussions at a high political level (G7 conference). This expedition is also referred to in the Dutch Government's Ocean Memorandum (in Dutch).

Research ship Sonne. Image: Jens Klostermann/Wikimedia CommonsImage: Research ship Sonne. copyrights: Jens Klostermann/Wikimedia Commons

Dutch contribution

Four Dutch research groups took part in the call and were selected for participation in the expedition. The four research groups are being led by Henko de Stigter (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research), Cees van Rhee (TU Delft), Jack Middelburg (Utrecht University) and Sabine Gollner (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research). They will investigate the impact of the sediment plume, the resilience of species to disturbances and the effects on ecosystems.

De Stigter will install a network of sensors on the deep seafloor that can measure the spread of the swirling sediment plume. The data collected can be used to calibrate and test mathematical models about the behaviour of the sediment plume. To gain a better insight into the physical interaction of the sediment plume with the surrounding water and the seafloor, Van Rhee is building a test tank in the Dredging Research Laboratory of TU Delft to study the behaviour of the sediment plume using scaled simulations. Middelburg will use in situ experiments to investigate the influence of the plume on common deep-sea animals such as sponges and corals that filter their food from water and the further effects of this in the food chain. Gollner will use recolonisation experiments to test whether artificial modules, which replace the natural polymetallic nodules, can facilitate the recovery of diversity after the mining has taken place. In addition, she will investigate how the underlying rock and ecosystem engineers, such as sponges that live on the nodules, influence the recovery.

Source: NWO