6 votes

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.


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    Proponents of deep-sea mining argue that the sooner it starts the better. Manufacturing wind turbines, electric vehicles, solar panels, and batteries for energy storage requires resources, often scarce ones. [...] “The reality is that the clean-energy transition is not possible without taking billions of tons of metal from the planet,” Gerard Barron, the chairman of the Metals Company, one of the businesses that holds permits from the I.S.A., observed a few months ago. Seafloor nodules, he said, “offer a way to dramatically reduce” the environmental impact of extracting these tons.

    But seabed mining poses environmental hazards of its own. The more scientists learn about the depths, the more extraordinary the discoveries. The ocean floor is populated by creatures that thrive under conditions that seem impossibly extreme. There is, for example, a ghostly pale deep-sea octopus that lays its eggs only on the stalks of nodule-dwelling sponges. Remove the nodules in order to melt them down and it will, presumably, take millions of years for new ones to form.

    Scales, like Widder, worries that the bottom of the ocean will be wrecked before many of the most marvellous creatures living there are even identified. “The frontier story has always been one of destruction and loss,” she writes. “It is naïve to assume that the process would play out any differently in the deep.” Indeed, she argues, the depths are particularly ill-suited to disturbance because, owing to a scarcity of food, creatures tend to grow and reproduce extremely slowly. “Vital habitat is created by corals and sponges that live for millennia,” she writes.

    1 vote
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      Also, That's so metal.


      A team of Japanese scientists recently reported that one deep-dwelling amphipod, Hirondellea gigas, protects its shell by coating it in an aluminum-based gel, produced from metal that it extracts from seafloor mud.

      Chrysomallon squamiferum, commonly referred to as the scaly-foot snail, is a mollusk that’s been found at vents in the Indian Ocean, at a depth of ten thousand feet. It’s the only animal known to build its shell with iron, and around its foot it sports a fringe of iron plates that looks a bit like a flamenco skirt.

      That's so metal.

      3 votes