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Digging Deep:

An integrated approach for assessing the impacts of deep-sea mining

T. Peacock (MechE),
P.F.J. Lermusiaux (MechE),
G. Flierl (EAPS)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Project Summary
Ongoing MIT-MSEAS Research
Additional Project Links
Background Information

 

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Imagery ©2015 Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Landsat
Map data ©2015 Google, Mapa GISrael, ORION-ME
This research is sponsored by the MIT Environment Solutions Initiative.

Project Summary

The focus of this project is to kick-start an initiative at MIT to assess the impacts of deep-sea mining by developing a high fidelity, regional, physical-biogeochemical oceanographic model of the Bismarck Sea. The latest Lagrangian data processing and nonlinear dynamical systems tools will be used to understand three-dimensional flow transport in the region, in order to provide a clearer understanding of the fate of material released by the mining activities at different depths and locations. The project brings together three MIT faculty with complementary expertise in numerical ocean modeling, dynamical systems methods for flow transport, and modeling of ocean-biological systems. We consider this to be a nucleus of a team that, based on the outcomes of this project, can grow over the next few years to encompass a wider scope, and involve other researchers at MIT and WHOI. The tools we implement and develop can be applied to assess the environmental impact at any proposed location for the growing field of deep-sea mining.

Background information is available below.

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Ongoing MIT-MSEAS Research

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Additional Project Links

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Background Information

One of the pressing environmental questions facing the ocean is the potential impact of the proliferation of deep-sea mining activities. It has long been determined that the sea floor possesses vast untapped resources of rare metals but only recently have they become economically viable. As such, preparations are now underway at the Solwara 1 site off Papua New Guinea (left figure at top of page), with operations currently scheduled to start in 2017. Although the proposed operations seem sound, there is some concern, that the physical oceanographic and flow transport modeling performed to date is insufficient to rigorously assess the impacts of the project. Of particular concern is whether upwelling and currents could carry pollutants up out of the deep sea, or from spills and leakages into marine food chains where they may poison marine species and the humans that eat them. All of these impacts need to be further quantified and studied.

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