Over a 6 million square km region of the central Pacific ocean, at abyssal depths of almost five thousand metres, lies a vast mineral resource in the form of small potato-sized deposits called polymetallic nodules. They are highly-enriched in metals of importance for industry, including the development of new sustainable technologies. Although the region lies in international waters, countries have now signed 16 exploration contracts with a UN-organised international regulator and the United Kingdom is sponsor to two of these, covering an area more than the size of England. It is a requirement of both the regulator and the sponsoring state to ensure that serious harm is avoided to the marine ecosystem in this region - a hitherto untouched deep-sea wilderness. Developing a sustainable approach to polymetallic nodule mining is a challenge as the nature and importance of the Pacific abyssal ecosystem is largely unknown, as are the capacity of the ecosystem to cope with and recover from mining impacts. Our project aims to provide the critical scientific understanding and evidence- base to reduce the risks of this industrial development, taking advantage of new and unique opportunities to solve these problems in a single programme.
NERC – Strategic Research