The Norwegian continental shelf hosts mineral resources of potential interest to an emerging deep-sea mining industry. Prospective mining sites are often associated with highly diverse, rare and vulnerable deep-sea habitats including hydrothermal vents and sponge grounds . We lack knowledge of the biodiversity, structure and function of those ecosystems to understand if mineral extraction can take place in a sustainable manner, avoiding serious harm to the environment.
Eco-Safe Ridge Mining will assess potential environmental impacts of seabed mining and identify possible mitigation approaches. This collaboration between academia and the industry will focus on the deep-sea habitats of the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge, where seafloor massive sulfides, produced by hydrothermal activity, are targeted for commercial mining due to their content in strategic metals.
The project will carry out baseline ecological surveys on benthic habitats associated with and in the vicinity of seafloor massive sulphides, to characterise the pre-mining state and natural variability of the environment. We will also conduct targeted scientific research to predict the impact of habitat removal and plumes generated during mining operations on Ridge ecosystems. Research activities include quantitative characterisation of community biodiversity and structure, ecosystem functions, the possibility of recolonization of disturbed areas, and the effects of plumes on seabed biota.
Eco-Safe Ridge Mining uses an environmental risk assessment framework, to ensure that the scientific data can inform the industry on developing mining procedures with minimal environmental footprint. The results can also be used by Norwegian authorities to establish regulations for deep-sea mining in areas under Norwegian jurisdiction.
The presence of seabed mineral deposits containing valuable metals on the Norwegian continental shelf is generating much interest in their commercial exploitation. Acknowledging deep-sea mining as an emerging industry, the Norwegian government initiated an opening process, but also determined that potential environmental impacts must be known before mineral extraction can begin. However, limited scientific knowledge on the marine ecosystems where mineral resources occur prevents an objective assessment of the associated risks involved with mining. Eco-Safe Ridge Mining is a collaborative project where researchers, industry stakeholders and authorities will work together to assess the possibility and create the basis for a deep-sea mining industry in Norway compliant with strict environmental sustainability requirements. The project will focus on seafloor massive sulfides (SMS), found on the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge associated with vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems such as active hydrothermal vents and sponge grounds, for which no protective measures are currently in place. We will conduct ecological baseline studies on benthic habitats of potential mining sites and surrounding areas, which will be crucial for detecting mining-related changes in those ecosystems. Studies will be carried out within an environmental risk assessment framework, ensuring valuable use of the data by the industry to develop mining technology with minimal environmental footprint. Moreover, the outputs will lay the groundwork for future monitoring of SMS mining activities on the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge.