Polymetallic nodules are lumps of minerals that range in size from just a few millimeters to tens of centimeters and are found in the abyssal areas of the oceans basins of the world. Known deposits are found in various quantities around a water depth of 3500 to 6000 meters. They lie on a relatively flat seafloor of soft sediment in a large surface area. It is estimated that the nodules present in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) contain more nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn) and cobalt (Co) than all land-based reserves combined. Furthermore, they contain significant amounts of copper (Cu) and molybdenum (Mo) (1).
GSR’s exploration program
To date GSR, in collaboration with Ghent University and other international experts, has organized four deep sea expeditions that have gathered engineering data for the design of a prototype nodule collector as well as environmental data on biodiversity, spatial distribution and eco-system parameters for the development of a robust environmental baseline, in addition to oceanographic, geological and mineral resource information (2). Pursuant to UNCLOS requirements, environmental data are publically available and GSR strives for academic publications, thereby contributing to the promulgation of refereed scientific research results.
(1) Hein, J. R., Mizell, K., Koschinsky, A. & Conrad, T. A. Deep-ocean mineral deposits as a source of critical metals for high- and green-technology applications: Comparison with land-based resources. Ore Geology Reviews 51, 1–14 (2013). (2) www.aqua.ugent.be/sourcing-metals-sea
SR Deep-sea Exploration – Building an environmental baseline
GSR’s exploration activities in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) focus on three major elements: resource assessment, technology and environment, all of which are shown in this 12-minute video covering the company’s 2017 Pacific campaign.
To verify resource estimates undertaken during GSR’s 2014 and 2015 campaigns, nodules were collected using deep-sea dredges and box cores. The technological aspects involved the deployment of ‘Patania I’, the first tracked vehicle to reach and travel the seafloor at depths of more than 4,500 m. Meanwhile scientist from both GSR and independent research institutions collected baseline data to better understand sites that may be subject to harvesting in the future and ensure that any such activities only proceed once the environment impact has been judged acceptable by the international community.