What Is Deep Sea Mining?

Dan Cavallari

Deep sea mining is the process of removing valuable materials such as metals and minerals from deposits located at the ocean floor or the floor of other large bodies of waters. This method of mining is relatively new as compared to mining on dry land, and the environmental impact is a concern among environmentalists and governments, as well as industries that rely on the oceans and waterways. Deep sea mining is a complex and expensive process that involves an excavator vehicle on the sea floor and a control vessel floating on the surface on the water, as well as some sort of interface to connect the two.

Deep sea mining typically is used to gather valuable material from the ocean floor.
Deep sea mining typically is used to gather valuable material from the ocean floor.

When the deep sea mining method was first presented in the 1960s, research teams from many countries began exploring the possibility of mining for valuable materials at the bottom of the ocean. Some popular sentiments at the time suggested the abundance of valuable materials would outweigh the costs of the process of extraction, but most research teams found that to be false. The idea of deep sea mining was largely abandoned for several decades, but in the 2000s, the process of extraction became a viable option again and companies began developing methods for acquiring the materials buried beneath bodies of water.

The process involves the use of remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, that are submerged in water until they reach the floor of that body of water. A control vehicle, usually a ship, is positioned above the ROV at the water's surface. The ROV will mine for samples and send those materials to the surface for analysis. This process allows the miners to find a potential mining site, and once a site has been found, mining can begin.

Extraction can occur in two ways during deep sea mining. The continuous line bucket (CLB) features a series of buckets that will scoop materials and deliver those materials to the surface. Another method, known as the hydraulic suction system, features the use of a series of long tubes or hoses that extend deep down to the surface of the ocean or body of water. The hose sucks material up through the hose to the surface, and another hose returns excess material back down to the sea floor. Deep sea mining companies usually prefer the CLB method, though it is not always feasible.

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