Jacobs scientists on board the new RV Sonne to study potential impacts of deep-sea mining

The new German research vessel ‘Sonne’ recently left the port of Balboa (Panama) with 40 scientists and technicians on board to study potential environmental impacts of the future mining of manganese nodules in the deep sea. Among the participants from eleven European countries are two members of the Marine Geochemistry Group led by Andrea Koschinsky, Professor of Geosciences at Jacobs University. March 23, 2015

Inken Preuss and Annika Moje will be working alongside members of the work group headed by Dr. Sabine Kasten (AWI Bremerhaven). The researchers will take samples from the seafloor and the water column to investigate how a future harvesting of manganese nodules from the seafloor could change the chemical equilibrium in the deep sea and if during the process potentially toxic metals could be released that might have a negative impact on the deep-sea fauna. After some hot and busy days at the port of Balboa in Panama spent with loading research equipment and food for the next seven weeks, the team of scientists set up the laboratories. Major preparations for the expedition had already started last summer when hundreds of sampling containers had to be ordered and cleaned, before they were shipped. Stowed away for the time being they will be successively filled with sediment and water samples over the course of the upcoming weeks. The new research vessel ‘Sonne’ provides a great working environment with modern laboratories and comfortable cabins. Inken, postdoctoral fellow and Annika, lab technician at Jacobs University, are looking forward to work and live on board the ship together with an international and interdisciplinary team. This will also allow them to gain first-hand insights into further deep-sea mining aspects beyond geochemistry, such as sediment plume studies and deep-sea biology. The present cruise is the first of three expeditions taking place within the EU initiative JPI Oceans, which is supported by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). In addition to visiting the German, Belgian and French license areas within the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the manganese nodule belt of the Pacific, one of the nine protected areas defined by the International Seabed Authority will be studied for the first time. The results of this trip and the two cruises following in late summer and fall will contribute significantly to a better understanding of the deep-sea system and will allow a more reliable prediction of potential environmental consequences of mining activities in the deep sea. Background information on the project:In recent years many governments and exploration companies have developed growing interest in marine mineral resources of the deep ocean as a potential resource for strategically important metals, which are critical for many modern technologies. The vast deposits of manganese nodules in ca. 4000-5000 water depth of the north-east Pacific lie beyond national jurisdiction and are regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), representing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Up to today, the ISA has granted 13 licenses for the exploration of manganese nodules in this area called Clarion Clipperton Zone, some of them being owned by Germany and other European countries. Before real industrial-scale mining may start some time in the future, it is of utmost importance to gain a better understanding of the ecology of the deep sea, and of the physical and chemical parameters determining the state of the system.