Deep Sea Mining: Economic Bonanza or Environmental Boondoggle?

May 29, 2013 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Daily Email Recap

Deep Sea Mining: Economic Bonanza or Environmental Boondoggle?


The World couldn’t afford to send me out to sea for this story. But for Adrian Glover, a marine biologist at London’s Natural History Museum, the furthest depths of the seas are familiar territory.

He shows me a photograph of a flat, seemingly barren terrain nearly two and a half miles down – part of what’s called the abyssal Pacific Ocean floor, off the coast of the United States.

Glover says it’s an area almost the size of the US, and the sea floor there is carpeted in potato-sized accretions known as manganese nodules.

He hands me what looks like a lump of coal, but is surprisingly light and crumbly.

“They’re peculiar things,” Glover says. “They were first studied in the 1960’s, and people quickly realized that they’re rich in minerals.”

Including not just manganese but also copper, cobalt, nickel and rare earths – materials essential these days in the production of everything from high-grade steel to smart phones and tablet computers.

Stephen Ball of Lockheed Martin says the global appetite for these sorts of minerals is growing all the time.

Lockheed is a defense contractor that hopes to be among the first to get into the deep-sea mining game.

And the company has a long, strange history in the development of the industry. It’s an elaborate tale that involves a top-secret CIA mission during the Cold War, and the eccentric American billionaire Howard Hughes.

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