Frequently Asked Questions
There are three main types of deep-sea minerals: polymetallic nodules, seafloor massive sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts. GSR is focused on the development of polymetallic nodules found in the international seabed area (i.e., beyond national jurisdiction) on the surface of the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) requiring conventional dredging techniques to recover them.
As their name suggests, polymetallic nodules contain a variety of metals, including amongst others nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese. These are the same metals required to power the Green Economy, including important battery technologies, to help society make the transition to a low carbon future.
The CCFZ is an area in the North Pacific Ocean, located between Hawaii and Mexico. It measures approximately 6,000 km by 1,000 km.
As of 2018, 16 Contractors have been granted 15-year exploration contracts of approximately 75,000 km2 each. The first contracts were signed in 2001 and extended for 5 years in 2016. During the exploration phase, contractors explore the deep seabed and assess the nodule deposits within their claim area, looking for high abundance nodule fields. The exploration process involves a great deal of marine scientific research, resulting in valuable data and knowledge.
As the area is managed by the International Seabed Authority, interested organizations need to be sponsored by a nation that has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), imparting additional oversight responsibilities to those sponsoring states.
It is anticipated that the regulatory framework for commercial activity will be adopted in 2020. Even then, contractors will not be allowed to begin collecting nodules until they can prove they can do so responsibly through a prefeasibility study and an environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. Public participation of interested stakeholders is an essential part of this EIA process.
According to a paper by Hein et al. (2013), the CCFZ contains more nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn) and cobalt (Co) than all land-based reserves combined. Polymetallic nodules here also contain significant amounts of copper (Cu) and molybdenum (Mo).
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).
Although GSR has signed an exploration contract for almost 77,000 km2, only 30% of this area may be economically mined (e.g. containing a high abundance of nodules), leaving the remaining 70% untouched (areas which contain nodules in a lower abundance). Harvesting would occur over a period of 50 years.
When the nodule collector moves along the seabed, it will stir up a cloud of fine sediments known as a plume. Furthermore, separating the nodules from the surrounding sediment creates another plume. Hydrodynamic forecasting models, along with data from DEME’s extensive dredging experience in other environments, predict the finest particles of these plumes (0.1 mg/L contour) to travel 3 to 10 km from the collector before resettling, while most of the sediment settles close to the collector.
GSR will be conducting a scientific component test of a pre-prototype of its collector (Patania II) in 2019 to validate and better quantify the distance, duration and effect of the plumes. The test will take place within GSR’s exploration area and represents an important step in the environmental impact assessment process. The data obtained during the test will help GSR improve the hydrodynamic forecasting model and develop techniques and equipment that minimizes the extent and dispersal rate of the sediment plumes. By taking into consideration current direction and modifying the order and style of harvesting (e.g. in ‘patches’ or ‘strips’), it may well be possible to contain the sediment plumes near the harvesting site.
There is no indication that the sediment plumes will be toxic. They involve natural sediment that gets lifted by other natural processes from time to time.
GSR plans to recover the nodules from the seabed and lift them to a surface vessel. There the nodules will be separated from seawater and sediments. The nodules are stored whereas the water-sediment mix will be returned to the ocean. GSR is collaborating with research institutes to determine the depth at which this mix can be discharged with minimal environmental impact.
There is no indication that fisheries will be adversely affected.
GSR’s license area is located more than 1,200 km from land and does not occur within major fishing grounds. In addition, polymetallic nodule harvesting will occur at a depth of 4500m, far below any commercial fish stocks. Modeling and initial at-sea trials indicate that the plumes generated by the nodule collector will have limited vertical dispersion and will resettle on the seafloor instead.