Our growing demand for resources has prompted companies to turn to mining in the depths of the oceans. With help from robots, a team of German scientists is racing to map the potential environmental damage.
The Earth’s oceans hide vast amounts of valuable minerals and metals, and as some onshore deposits run low, mining companies are looking for ways to make deep sea mining both technologically possible and profitable.
This is partly driven by the need for so-called rare earth metals to produce the magnets, batteries and microchips driving our gadgets, electric cars and wind turbines.
“New technologies have initiated the new gold rush,” says Andrea Koschinsky, a professor of geoscience at Jacobs University in the northern German city of Bremen.
“Many of the new technologies — for example magnets of the wind turbines — need tons and tons and tons of rare earth elements.” Some deep sea mining machines have already been built, and many countries have bought permits for deep sea mineral prospecting in a massive 1.2 million-square-kilometer (463,322-square-mile) area of the eastern Pacific Ocean.
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