Map of the week – Deep-sea mineral resources
In the current climate emergency, it is imperative that our society moves away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable and renewable energy sources. At the heart of this clean energy transition are batteries. These devices allow to store electrical energy, which can be generated from renewable but intermittent and hard-to-control wind and solar sources, and provide it on demand to power our phones, computers, electric vehicles and houses. The downside to this amazing technology is that current generation batteries require precious and rare metals like cobalt, manganese, nickel, copper and lithium1. Unregulated mining of these toxic metals from the earth often comes at a high environmental and, in some cases, human cost and these unsustainable practices are expected to increase as demand grows in a more renewable electricity powered society2. Furthermore, there are fears that the currently mined reserves of these minerals will not meet the future demand2. While there is a clear need to move towards sustainable mining practices and a more circular economy where the raw materials for batteries are recycled (which are the goals of the European Battery Alliance), the need for primary raw materials for batteries remains.
A potential solution may be the vast amounts of precious metals that are present in manganese crusts and polymetallic nodules, potato sized rock concretions that cover the ocean floor, as well as in seafloor massive sulfide deposits, which form near volcanic vents as sulfide-enriched fluids from deep inside the earth come into contact with seawater3. The high concentration of metals like iron, manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt in these deep-sea mineral resources has caused a lot of research and technological advancement towards their extraction with a process termed deep-sea mining3. However, research has also shown that many of the prospected mining sites are also hotspots of abundance and diversity for vulnerable abyssal fauna3. In order to protect these little understood ecosystems, there is an urgent need for environmental policies in this emerging industrial sector, which will require a collaborative approach between industry, policy makers and scientists. The map of the week shows the presence of these deep-sea mineral resources in different sampling locations around the globe.
The data in this map were provided by the International Seabed Authority.