Gold Mining: Formation and Resource Estimation, Economics and Environmental Impact

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Nevertheless, no major differences are expected as both models are based on the global freshwater model WaterGap, 8 and according to Sala et al. Protection of biodiversity and conservation of high-quality ecosystems are the focus of the indicator of designated protected areas and Alliance for Zero Extinction AZE sites. Here, georeferenced data are available from the World Database on Protected Areas WDPA 9 and AZE sites can be explored in a live map 10 Nationally or internationally defined nature conservation areas, national parks, or other areas with high biodiversity are investigated to assess hazards posed by mining extraction of the respective raw material.

The developed metric of this third group of indicators was applied to 42 raw materials where sufficient data on mining sites are available. The result of the GIS assessment weighted by country production data for each raw material is the proportional distribution of mining in areas with a low, medium, or high EHP. The final raw material-related assessment for this third group of indicators is based on limit values for the three-level scale. Such limits cannot be derived empirically.

There is no scientific basis to identify what percentage of mining, e. Here, we choose a mathematical approach consistent with the approach for the following two indicators addressing the value chain. The cumulative raw material demand of world production CRD global is an indicator of the global scale of the potential environmental hazard measured in million metric tonnes per year. In addition to global production and promotion of the actual commodity, it includes the mass of all extracted materials required for the production of the commodity as well as the volumes of mining residues after processing.

Thus, the average deposit content is also taken into account here. Indicator values were calculated using the raw material-specific CRD data from literature sources Giegrich et al. The assessment is based on limit values for the three-level scale see below. The indicator cumulative energy demand of world production CED global measured in petajoule per year is also aimed at characterizing the global scale of the EHP. This energy expenditure considers all energy input during extraction, processing, transport, and smelting.

Thus, the potentially very dissimilar chemical binding conditions in different ores and the differing necessary efforts to smelt and refine them are taken into account. Indicator values were calculated using the raw material-specific CED data from literature sources Nuss and Eckelman ; Giegrich et al. Similar to the above indicator, the assessment is based on limit values for the three-level scale.

For all four groups of indicators described above, it should be noted that the evaluation approach deliberately excludes actual management and possible countermeasures to avoid harmful environmental consequences. This is not to imply that such measures would be ineffective.

However, from a global perspective, it must be assumed that risk mitigation measures are not or only insufficiently implemented in many projects and regions for reasons such as cost pressure or governance problems.

Although mining companies can implement high standards e. In acknowledgement of these circumstances, environmental governance is taken into account. A country index using a combination of publicly available governance indicators e. The index applies to the respective countries of production in proportion to their share of world production. Thus, if a large proportion of world production is provided by a country with poor environmental governance, the resulting environmental hazard is relatively high.

The result of the assessment is a tier risk profile on a three-level scale for each mineral resource. The following section outlines a method of aggregation for a single score result. For reasons of scientific accuracy, transparency, and reliability, non-aggregated results, e.

Grouping indicators by key environmental goals and as influencing boundary conditions. Based on this ranking, the individual indicators are first combined within the environmental goals following specific rules, e. The iBCs are aggregated in similar fashion. The iBCs are used to fine-tune the preliminary results if necessary to obtain the total EHP for each raw material.

The latter aspect was mostly assessed using the work of Cissarz on the geochemical distribution of elements in deposit groups Cissarz This analysis revealed that iron, graphite, and tungsten—all classified as siderophilic elements—are partly or mostly mined from oxidic deposits with medium or low EHP for acid mine drainage. In contrast, gold as another siderophile element is mostly mined from sulfidic stockwork deposits with high associated EHP. For this analysis, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, copper, nickel, selenium, and zinc were classified as heavy metals due to their toxicological properties.

These raw materials were uniformly considered as having a high EHP for indicator 2. Accordingly, copper and nickel were attributed a high EHP see Table 2. Other raw materials were considered to have a medium EHP when deposits are commonly associated with elevated heavy metal concentrations, which is basically the case for all major ores.

This association explains the medium EHP of iron, gold, tantalum, and tungsten. Heavy metal concentrations in tungsten mining sites have been reported to be high Li et al. Apart from ores, elevated heavy metal concentrations are also known for several other deposits such as phosphate rock. Uranium and thorium were not considered for indicator 2, as these materials are covered by indicator no.

A high EHP was assigned to raw materials that are commonly mined from deposits with naturally occurring high concentrations of radioactive substances. This applies mainly to ores and deposits of the following raw materials: uranium, thorium, rare earth, tantalum, niobium, zirconium, and sedimentary phosphate. Due to data scarcity for this indicator, further systematic research is needed. Better data availability might lead to a revision of assigned EHPs for gold, graphite, nickel, and tungsten.

Raw materials that are mostly mined in open pits from unconsolidated sediments were considered to have a high EHP under this indicator, which does not apply to any of the raw materials presented in Table 2. Raw materials such as iron, gold, copper, nickel, and tantalum that are mostly mined from open pits from solid rock were classified to have a medium EHP, and raw materials mostly extracted from underground mining were assigned a low EHP. The latter applies to graphite and tungsten in Table 2.

This applies to gold and copper in Table 2. Raw materials where chemicals are commonly used for other purposes, in particular flotation processes, were assigned a medium EHP iron, graphite, and tungsten in Table 2. Raw materials that are extracted and processed without the use of auxiliary chemicals were considered to have a low EHP, e.

The results in Table 2 for the seven raw materials show all variations and well represent the results for the 42 raw materials which could be assessed. None of the 42 raw materials shows a high or a low EHP for all three indicators, which indicates their exclusiveness for a broad range of abiotic raw materials.

In addition to the final assessment, Table 2 also provides the proportional distribution of the GIS assessment weighted by country production data standard assessment. This is different for indicator 8. Here, raw materials with a rather low percentage of high EHP from the standard assessment are attributed with a high EHP in the raw material-related evaluation.

This is because due to lack of data, only designated protection areas could be analyzed, and the results show that these are mostly respected, but not in all cases. Thus, a high EHP for raw materials reflects cases where mining activities interfere with designated protection areas, although only to a low percentage.

In general, the results are derived from data of medium quality due to the lack of data on production volume per mine site. In case of non-compliance, further mine sites were added after additional research in producer countries. This additional assessment was necessary for several raw materials e. Environmental hazard potentials were assigned according to a comparison between various raw materials: the quantile with the highest indicator values was attributed a high EHP and the quantile with the lowest indicator values was attributed a low EHP. Those ranging in the middle were attributed a medium EHP.

The method for allocating EHPs to raw materials follows the same principles as applied for indicator no. Indicator 11 addressing the governance environment is still under development. Evaluations are based on the annual global mine production and mostly qualitative in nature. Thus, results represent EHPs for the global mine production and cannot be used to compare defined quantities of raw materials.

In any case, such comparisons require a life cycle approach including use and end-of-life phase of the manifold products manufactured from these raw materials using quantitative data on environmental impacts. The focus on EHPs of raw materials necessarily represents a simplification of the diverse situation in mining areas across the world. Thus, results represent average EHPs of a defined raw material that cannot be scaled down to the level of individual mines.

Assessments at the level of mines and individual supply chains require alternative tools such as environmental impact assessments EIAs. For a first quick but robust screening of potential environmental impacts, the site-related evaluation of the OekoRess project may be used Dehoust et al.

The method is designed to assess EHPs of the current global primary production. Future dynamics would need a focus on reserves. In principle, this is also feasible with the developed method, but is a question of data availability. The method presented here allows a qualitative assessment of the potential environmental impacts of primary production of raw materials.

It is not meant to substitute cradle-to-grave assessments of products or detailed site-specific assessments. It can however complement other assessment methods and tools and support policy-making and business strategies. Many industrialized countries—and in particular many countries in Europe—are largely dependent on the import of abiotic raw materials.

This causes a situation in which many value chains are associated with negative environmental impacts from mining in other world regions. Furthermore, environmental impacts are often unequally distributed along the global value chains: while a majority of economic value addition occurs in industrialized countries with relatively controlled environmental impacts, mineral extraction and processing in many places are associated with extreme local environmental impacts that would not be accepted in this form in many industrialized countries.

This connection results in an ethical co-responsibility for industry and policy of many industrialized countries. In particular, raw material policy is challenged to adopt as core objectives not only the interest of supply security, but also that of environmental aspects of mining and processing and—together with industry—to translate this responsibility into appropriate measures.

For the planning and design of effective measures, a reduction of complexity is indispensable as a first step. It is recommended that measures focus first on those raw materials that both have a particularly high EHP and a high economic significance for the affected entity, e. The presented method for raw material-related evaluation enables such a prioritization and is currently applied to over 50 abiotic raw materials in the ongoing follow-up project OekoRess II.

Such prioritization can also be used by companies for their efforts to achieve sustainable supply chain management. In addition, the raw material-related evaluation can complement LCA or other assessments with focus on certain raw materials. For example, future technologies for the energy transition like renewable energies or e-mobility will increase the need of specific raw materials.

The evaluation results can be used to better understand the potential environmental impacts from increased mining of those materials, and help to incite precautionary measures. For the debate on science and industrial policy on critical raw materials, it is recommended to examine to what extent the method introduced here can be included in the existing criticality assessment. Generally, efforts should be made for raw material-related evaluation systems to give a comprehensive overview of risks and impacts associated with raw materials.

Environmental problems and impacts ought to be treated transparently in an equal manner and mapped as a separate evaluation dimension. Such an integrated presentation is also effective because EHPs are likely to have a significant impact on future price and scarcity developments as a result of an expected increase in the internalization of external costs in the mining sector through effective implementation of voluntary and mandatory standards. Thus, they provide an important additional information basis for a sustainable raw material policy.

Raw materials ought to be considered environmentally critical when they show high EHPs, corresponding to a low environmental availability, while simultaneously being of great economic importance. The assessment results should also be considered in resource efficiency policies, which aim to reduce material use-related environmental pressure while enhancing competitiveness. To address these policy targets, resource efficiency policy measures such as research funding programs for a circular economy should expand their focus on environmentally critical raw materials rather than focusing on conventionally critical raw materials or relying solely on mass-based indicators.

For example, Responsible Minerals Initiative www. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. The environmental criticality of primary raw materials — A new methodology to assess global environmental hazard potentials of minerals and metals from mining.

Open Access. First Online: 13 August Introduction The mining and processing of minerals is always associated with environmental impacts resulting from ecosystem damage, soil removal, and the use of water, energy, and chemicals. Primary raw materials and their environmental hazards During prospection and exploration, the environmental impacts of mining are limited in time and magnitude. Existing assessment methods Currently, a variety of methods suitable in principle to assess the environmental relevance of raw materials exist. Toxicological assessments Raw materials can be assessed and classified according to their toxicological properties, a process which follows established methods and is commonly done for substances including raw materials used in industrial production.

Life cycle assessments Life cycle assessment LCA is one of the several environmental management techniques e. Criticality assessments Criticality assessments are a screening tool to highlight concerns of raw material supply that require deeper analyses to build up a knowledge base for targeted actions Blengini et al. Numerous studies have been undertaken to identify critical raw materials in the last ten years. Most criticality studies assess supply risks by analyzing geopolitical and technical as well as geological and economic factors of influence EU COM ; Chapman et al.

Despite their relevance for supply risks, future price increases through internalization of external costs and securing a sustainable supply of raw materials see Mudd and Jowitt , there are so far only few rather elementary approaches to integrate environmental aspects into criticality analyses which are not further developed for the time being.

Chapman et al. The European Commission, however, dropped this approach in its report arguing that not all parameters of the EPI are relevant for criticality assessment and that the indicator does in certain cases not properly reflect the environmental performance in the mining sector which artificially influences the results of supply risk calculation EU COM Graedel et al. As Morley and Eatherley , Graedel et al. Scope and system boundaries The method was developed for abiotic raw materials and is—due to the design of its indicators—only applicable for raw materials from mining sources.

Although the evaluation is done at the level of raw materials that have the quality to be used in industrial production e. This indirect link results from the fact that these two characteristics of minerals sulfidic deposits, paragenesis with heavy metals do not only point to EHPs during mining and processing, but also during smelting where sulfides and heavy metals can lead to severe environmental impacts if not managed appropriately. Open image in new window.

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The methodological approach for developing a raw material-related evaluation was guided by the following two main reflections on the starting point: 1. The identified set of indicators to measure the goals in the identified fields or levels are referred to as the indicator system in the following. In general, the indicators, i. The geological indicators reflect environmental hazards arising from pollutants present in the deposits and released by mining: 1. The group of technical indicators assesses the interventions directly or indirectly linked to extraction and processing activities.

The third group of indicators addresses the impacts of mining on the natural environment of mining operations. In case of limited data, further mine sites were complemented by additional research. Due to the lack of production data per mine site, a method to use country production data for approximation was developed.

The indicator criteria are: 6. The two indicators addressing the value chain aim to include the smelting and processing of raw materials produced at the mining site in the analysis and to achieve a certain scale on global importance through the integration of world production, respectively. The use of these indicators is based on the following considerations: While indicators 1 to 8 are well suited to cover a wide range of environmental aspects, they do not account for any scale effects of mining.

But for the basic aim of this methodology—to provide decision-makers a prioritization tool to identify raw materials of particular environmental relevance—scale matters significantly as some commodities are mined in comparable small and others in quite large quantities—with varying specific impacts per mass of material.

Obviously raw materials that are mined in larger quantities are likely to have, from a global perspective, larger impacts on ecosystems than raw materials mined in only small quantities, presupposing comparable results for indicators 1 to 8. This aspect is covered by indicator no. Thus, indicator 9 also covers the fact that mining of some raw materials produces more mining residues as of others. This factor is not considered by the indicators 1 to 9 and therefore needs to be added. By summarizing energy requirements along the material production value chain, this indicator also closes the methodological gap between the focus on mining and the need to produce results on the level of refined raw materials.

Limit values for the indicators on the natural environment 6 to 8 and the value chain 9 and 10 cannot be based on scientific evidence. For the value chain indicators, a medium EHP is neutral to the finally aggregated results per raw material, and for the natural environment indicators, the broad range of raw materials with medium EHP well reflects the given data uncertainties.

To derive quartiles for the latter, the proportional distribution of EHPs for each raw material are combined by multiplying them with for low-medium-high. We decided on this combination to especially amplify the percentage results with high EHP, while the influence of low EHP percentages is kept low. Nevertheless, single-score indicators seem to be unavoidable in both political and public debates. Therefore, we decided to provide an appropriate aggregation method.

Such an aggregation must be qualitative and needs to reflect environmental concerns. The developed aggregation method is based on a ranking method for environmental impacts developed by the German Environment Agency for LCA results Schmitz and Paulini This method differentiates five levels of environmental significance, i.

It takes into account the environmental hazard and the distance to target e. Not all of the 11 indicators represent environmental impacts. Therefore, prior to ranking and combination of individual results, the indicators are clustered into environmental goals and influencing boundary conditions iBCs. Environmental goals from the indicator system are as follows: avoiding pollution risks, limiting direct impacts on ecosystems, avoiding natural accident hazards and resulting pollution risks , avoiding competition in water usage, and protecting valuable ecosystems.

We assumed all these goals to have at least a high environmental significance. Thus, ranking of the environmental goals is reduced to the decision if they are of high or of very high environmental significance. Table 1 shows the result of the indicators thus grouped. Table 1 Grouping indicators by key environmental goals and as influencing boundary conditions.

Table 2 reports the assessment results for the EHPs for seven raw materials—iron, gold, copper, natural graphite, nickel, tantalum, and tungsten. Whereas the results of the indicators addressing geology and technology indicator nos. Since production data on mine site level was not available, country production data was used for approximation reference year , basically derived from BGS and USGS a. The values for indicators 9 and 10 are based on material-specific life cycle inventory data, multiplied with the global annual mine production for The results reported in Table 2 are explained in more detail below.

Table 2 Results for selected raw materials. Paragenesis with heavy metals For this analysis, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, copper, nickel, selenium, and zinc were classified as heavy metals due to their toxicological properties. Paragenesis with radioactive substances A high EHP was assigned to raw materials that are commonly mined from deposits with naturally occurring high concentrations of radioactive substances.

Mining method Raw materials that are mostly mined in open pits from unconsolidated sediments were considered to have a high EHP under this indicator, which does not apply to any of the raw materials presented in Table 2. Cumulated raw material demand of global production Environmental hazard potentials were assigned according to a comparison between various raw materials: the quantile with the highest indicator values was attributed a high EHP and the quantile with the lowest indicator values was attributed a low EHP.

Cumulated energy demand of global production The method for allocating EHPs to raw materials follows the same principles as applied for indicator no. The method presented in this paper represents an innovative approach to gauge EHPs of abiotic raw materials from mining. Main advantages of the methodology are the direct or indirect coverage of all relevant environmental issues associated with mining and mineral processing; its applicability to a wide range of raw materials in the absence of comprehensive quantitative data on environmental impacts; and its limited number of indicators facilitating the interpretation of results.

However, the method also has certain limitations, which can be summarized as follows: Evaluations are based on the annual global mine production and mostly qualitative in nature. Despite these limitations, we are convinced that the methodology and the results it delivers for abiotic raw materials are necessary elements for developing effective and focused responsible sourcing strategies, both at the country level and at the level of individual companies and industry sectors.

As a matter of fact, mining is—from a global perspective—still far from being environmentally sound ICMM a. Although in many places and mines, effective measures are undertaken to mitigate EHPs, mining continues in many regions of the world that observe no or insufficient environmental protective measures.

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The following recommendations for action have been derived during developing the OekoRess methodology. Large segments of these recommendations have also been published in the relevant project documents in German and English Dehoust et al. Aluminium Stewardship Initiative ed. In: U. Proceedings of an international symposium. Marrakesh, Morocco, 22—26 March Google Scholar. Arogunjo AM : Heavy metal composition of some solid minerals in Nigeria and their health implications to the environment.

In: Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 10, pp. Considering atmospheric evaporation recycling and the risk of freshwater depletion in water footprinting. Wind power, photovoltaic and electric vehicles technologies time frame — — Study. Keyworth, Nottingham. Online available at www. Brown T, Pitfield P Tungsten. In: Gunn G ed Hg. International Institute for Environment and Development ieed.

Carmo FF, et al. In: Perspectives in ecology and conservation 15 , pp. Cobalt Institute Promoting the sustainable and responsible use of cobalt in all forms. Mitigation strategies were not suggested by the company in its EIS. Sunlight readily penetrates the euphotic zone approximately the uppermost m of the ocean, depending upon conditions , enabling photosynthesis, but relatively little sunlight penetrates the dysphotic zone —1, m.

The aphotic zone is below the penetration of sunlight but is not completely dark: low light in the deep sea has been shown to originate from bioluminescence Craig et al. Continuous mining activity that employs floodlighting on surface support vessels and seafloor mining tools would vastly increase light levels on a long-term basis and this would be a change from current conditions at proposed mining sites. For example, most of the light detected at two hydrothermal vents one on the East Pacific Ridge, the other in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was near-infrared Van Dover et al.

Herring et al. Research is needed to determine the extent to which Beck's petrel Pseudobulweria becki —a species listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List and which is native to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands—would be attracted by artificial light used in proposed mining operations. If increased light levels were to persist, other mobile organisms might migrate away from the mine site.

To date, there is no evidence that Nautilus has investigated ambient light levels at the Solwara 1 site or considered the likely significance of such impacts in any detail Nautilus Minerals, Drilling and vehicle operation during mining will release heat, as will dewatering waste that is returned to the deep sea.

Very little is known about the impact of such temperature increases on deep-sea organisms, though it is thought that the deep sea has a relatively stable temperature and changes could affect growth, metabolism, reproductive success and survival of some deep-sea species Bashir et al. Deep-sea mining will inevitably cause loss of biodiversity on a local scale. Depending on factors such as the type of impact for example, sediment plumes or noise , the type of mining and the ecosystem, biodiversity across a much wider area could be affected.

The geographic and temporal scale of mining activities will affect the level and type of impact. For instance, extraction of SMS may target several hectares per year, whereas the area of cobalt-crust mining may range from tens to hundreds of square kilometers Hein et al. Mining activities will result in the direct mortality of organisms, removal and fragmentation of substrate habitat and degradation of the water column and seabed by sediment plumes Van Dover et al.

The extent of habitat fragmentation because of mining is difficult to predict, given that there have been no large-scale trials. Mining large, continuous fields of manganese nodules will create a mosaic of smaller-sized fields, and mining SMS will lead to further fragmentation of an ecosystem that is, naturally, unevenly spaced but heavily dependent on association with specific and localized seabed features.

The extent of resource extraction and plume dispersal will influence the size of the remaining fragments. Benthic organisms span a range of sizes with different ecological characteristics that dictate the nature and extent of their dispersal, mobility, and feeding strategies. The response of benthic organisms to the likely habitat fragmentation induced by mining will vary widely and will be challenging to predict because little is known about the life history or patterns of genetic diversity of many deep-sea species Boschen et al.

Habitat modification may extend from the vicinity of mining operations to far-field effects, which are defined as those that are detectable more than 20 km away from the mining site. Reasons for degradation of the marine environment include drifting sediment plumes and low frequency noise propagation, which could alter species distributions, ecosystem functioning or even seemingly unconnected processes such as carbon cycling Nath et al.

The potential for benthic communities to recover is likely to vary substantially between locations and will be influenced by the duration of mining operations Van Dover, Slow-growing deep-sea organisms typically have correspondingly low resilience to change Rodrigues et al. In the absence of commercial operations, recovery studies rely on study of the aftermath of natural extinction events such as volcanic eruptions or on deliberate disturbance experiments, but the spatial and temporal scales differ from commercial mining and so extrapolating results to determine ecological responses to seabed mining has limited application Jones et al.

The extraction of manganese nodules removes the habitat for nodule dwelling organisms, making recovery of these communities almost impossible given the long time periods required for nodule formation. The experiment replicated on a small scale the disturbance that would be caused by commercially mining manganese nodules by plow harrowing a circular area of the seabed measuring The aim of the project was to monitor recolonization of benthic biota. The experimental area was sampled five times: before, immediately after the disturbance, then after 6 months, 3 and 7 years.

After 7 years, the tracks made by the plow were still visible. Mobile animals began to repopulate the disturbed area soon after the damage was caused, but even after 7 years the total number of taxa was still low when compared to pre-disturbance data Bluhm, Preliminary results and observations note that the original plow marks are still visible and there has been only a low level of recolonization, suggesting that disturbing nodules for commercial mining will cause long-term damage to the benthic ecosystem JPI, Few species groups recovered to pre-mining baseline conditions even after two decades and Jones et al.

After mining seafloor massive sulfide deposits, vent community recovery will rely on the continuation of the hydrothermal energy source and presence of all species to enable repopulation. Community composition changes are likely due to recolonization of substrates by early successional species and the loss of species sensitive to change Bashir et al. Mullineaux et al. Shank et al. Sustained mining activity will have very different impacts to one-off natural events and the likelihood and extent of recovery of mined vent sites is highly uncertain Van Dover, In an attempt to mitigate disturbance caused by mining, Nautilus Minerals proposes to temporarily transplant large organisms and clumps of substrate to a refuge area before mining and return them to their original position when mining ceases Nautilus Minerals, The proposals have not yet been field-tested.

Data indicating the recovery of biota on seamounts following physical disturbance are scarce. Studies looking at seamounts that have been overexploited by trawler fishing indicate uncertainty as to whether recovery of deep-sea fish populations is possible because species are slow growing and bottom trawling in common with mining operations causes severe physical disturbance to the seabed. Additional challenges arise when predicting seamount recovery because seamounts vary widely in size, location and environmental conditions Clark et al.

Mining extinct vents only is anticipated to minimize impacts to vent species, because extinct sites are considered to host fewer species than active sites. Extinct vents are largely unstudied because they are difficult to locate without a hydrothermal plume Van Dover, However, it may be challenging to determine whether a particular vent is extinct or temporally inactive; some reports suggest vent systems can be inactive for several years before reactivating Birney, For example, vent activity was highly variable over a 3-year period of investigation at Solwara 1 Nautilus Minerals, Suzuki et al.

Van Dover noted that extinct vents with no detectable emissions nevertheless still hosted suspension feeding and grazing invertebrates. Seabed mining impacts have the potential to conflict with subsistence and commercial fishing, and shipping activities. The analysis of deep-sea biota for novel chemical compounds that could be used in medicines is another area of growing commercial interest. Legal cases could be brought if, for example, a sediment plume crosses a boundary and causes harm to the marine environment of a coastal state or to the area outside a contractor's allocated site.

It is reported that fishing activities will cease in the immediate mining area and the exclusion zone due to habitat removal and increased levels of maritime traffic Namibian Marine Phosphates, In another example, fishing companies were active opponents to a proposal for ironsand mining off New Zealand's west coast New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority, Armstrong et al.

For example, enzymes from deep-sea bacteria have been used in the development of commercial skin protection products by the French company Sederma for many years Arico and Salpin, Hydrothermal vent species are of particular interest because they have unusual symbiotic relationships, are resistant to heavy metals and yield thermotolerant enzymes with a number of commercial uses Ruth, ; Harden-Davies, The market for marine genetic resources is large and reached many billion US dollars by Leary et al.

Despite the significant economic value of deep-sea discoveries, there are concerns that mineral mining could destroy genetic resources before they have been fully understood or even discovered. There are also uncertainties surrounding the legal framework underpinning discoveries made in the Area Ruth, ; Harden-Davies, Interest in obtaining minerals and resources from the deep sea has gained momentum over the past decade but so too has the desire to survey, monitor, explore and understand deep-sea ecosystems.

Although only around 0. Advances in technology have made it possible to explore some of the deepest reaches of the ocean, leading to the discovery of hundreds of previously undescribed species but also making commercial exploitation of seabed minerals a real possibility.

To date, no deep-sea commercial mining has taken place, nor have there been pilot operations to enable accurate assessment of impacts Van Dover, The resource closest to large-scale extraction is SMS by Nautilus Minerals at the Solwara 1 site in the national waters of Papua New Guinea, where exploitation is scheduled to begin in early The project has required significant financial investment and the company is under pressure to commence operations that will yield economic returns. In this paper, we have outlined some of the very significant questions that surround plans for large-scale commercial minerals mining, whether within continental shelf boundaries or in the Area.

When the mining of deep-sea minerals was first proposed several decades ago, knowledge of the deep-sea environment was relatively poor, as was our understanding of the potential impacts of seabed mining. Though our understanding of deep-sea biodiversity remains limited, it is evident that many species have specific life-history adaptations for example, slow growing and delayed maturity; Ramirez-Llodra et al. Recovery from human-mediated disturbance could take decades, centuries or even millennia, if these ecosystems recover at all.

Myriad impacts relate to seabed mining including the potential for conflicts with the interests of other users of the sea. At the time of writing, the ISA was in the process of developing a regulatory framework for managing mining in the Area. The details of the environmental management framework the ISA will adopt is still unclear. Key issues that need to be defined before commercial mining operations begin, including how states can meet their duty, as stipulated in UNCLOS Article , to effectively protect the marine environment.

As understanding deepens with respect to ecosystem services and the role of the oceans in mitigating climate change, it seems wise to ensure that all necessary precautions are taken before any decision to allow deliberate disturbance that could have long-lasting and possibly unforeseen consequences. Current activity in the Area is subject to exploration regulations by the ISA, but exploitation will have a far greater environmental impact than exploration, and because of this, biodiversity loss as a consequence of commercial operations is the topic of current debate.

Mitigation techniques that have been proposed to monitor the potential impacts to biodiversity and aid recovery of mined areas are untested so far. Indeed, Van Dover , and Van Dover et al. Van Dover outlines a hierarchy of possible mitigation methods, including: 1 avoidance such as by establishing protected reserves within which no anthropogenic activity takes place , 2 minimization such as by establishing un-mined biological corridors, relocating animals from the site of activity to a site with no activity, minimizing machine noise or sediment plumes and 3 restoration as a last resort, because avoidance would be preferable.

A fourth mitigation method is offset the contractor would pay for the establishment of a dedicated reserve or for research , although Van Dover states that there is no such framework in place for hydrothermal systems and suggests initiating discussions on the topic among stakeholders with an interest in deep sea mining.

For hydrothermal vent ecosystems, a deeper understanding of the ways in which these ecosystems are likely to be impacted and respond to commercial mineral extraction activities would help to determine the likelihood of natural recovery. An advanced understanding of hydrothermal vent ecology is necessary but that will require funding for research, long-term monitoring and thorough environmental impact assessments prior to authorizing any commercial activity Van Dover, In its mining code currently only applicable to prospecting and exploration not exploitation , the ISA discusses establishing preservation reference zones PRZ; areas in which no mining takes place and impact reference zones IRZ; areas set aside for monitoring the impact of mining activity.

One point to note is that IRZs and PRZs are distinct from marine protected areas because they are intended to be tools for environmental monitoring, not for the conservation of biodiversity. Lallier and Maes recommend that the ISA mining code be developed to prioritize environmental protection through the application of the precautionary approach, but it is unclear how this would work on a practical basis, or whether protective measures would be effective.

A number of countries, including Canada, the United States, Mexico and Portugal, have established marine protected areas to protect hydrothermal vents and other deep-sea features Van Dover, , but it is unclear how beneficial these will be. Other strategies that have been suggested to mitigate the impact of deep-sea mining during the exploitation phase include reducing the area impacted by plumes; de-compacting sediment under the seafloor production tools; and leaving a proportion of nodules on the seabed such as the largest and the smallest.


However, to date there has been no large-scale deep-sea mining test and no assessment of whether any one strategy or combination of strategies would lessen any impact on biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Some opponents of deep-sea mining imply that any mitigation measures seem futile. An article published in Science in called for the ISA to suspend approval for new exploration contracts and not approve any exploitation contracts until marine protected areas are designed and implemented for the high seas Wedding et al.

These authors also suggested that protected areas are designated before new exploration contracts are awarded. Many questions and uncertainties surround deep-sea mining, including those stemming from the complexity and scale of the proposed operations, and those arising from legal uncertainties relating to proposed exploitation in the Area and the fact that no large-scale impact trials have yet taken place.

In this review, we have presented some of the key issues, but very substantial and significant knowledge gaps remain. Data indicating the recovery of deep-sea biota following physical disturbance are scarce and thus this is an area warranting additional research. There is an absence of baseline data from potential mining sites because only a fraction of the ocean has been studied in depth due to the logistical complexity and financial constraints of accessing the deep sea.

Future studies could focus on understanding deep-sea ecology for example, local endemism, demographic and genetic connectivity relating to dispersal modes in the proposed mining zones. Discussions are underway to develop the legal framework to regulate exploitation, including issues of environmental protection, accountability, interactions across international and national boundaries, and also between claims, with input from marine scientists, legal specialists, and non-governmental organizations.

Uncertainties surrounding deep-sea ecology and ecological responses to mining-related activities mean that environmental management strategies would need to be tailored to incorporate natural temporal and spatial variability of deep-sea ecosystems Clark et al. The impact of noise on deep-sea organisms is not well-studied, which represents another significant knowledge gap in the management of commercial activities. It is widely accepted that demand for metals for use in clean energy and emerging technologies will increase in the next decades, raising the likelihood of supply risk.

In response, retrieving metal resources from seabed mining has been identified as one of five sectors with a high potential for development within the European Commission's blue growth strategy European Commission, a. If technological challenges are overcome, the annual turnover of marine minerals mining within Europe could grow from zero to 10 billion Euros by Ehlers, However, there are alternatives to exploiting virgin stocks of ore from the seabed.

Such approaches include: substituting metals in short supply, such as rare earths, for more abundant minerals with similar properties United States Department of Energy, ; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ; landfill mining Wagner and Raymond, ; and collection and recycling of components from products at the end of their life-cycle. Other novel options include the potential to recover lithium and other rare metals from seawater Hoshino, A European Commission initiative, adopted in , supports the transition toward a circular economy that promotes recycling and reuse of materials—from production to consumption—so that raw materials are fed back into the economy European Commission, b , though the strategy will depend on developing the necessary technology as well as changing consumer behavior.

Recycling, though crucial, is unlikely to provide sufficient quantities of metals to satisfy requirements in future years which has prompted suggestions that reducing use of metals in products will be a necessary part of product design United Nations Environment Programme, a.

Increasing the longevity of technological devices and promoting responsible e-waste recycling could be achieved through manufacturer take-back schemes, in which component materials can be safely and effectively recovered for reuse. Recycling metals carries its own challenges, which include potential release of toxic substances during processing and limitations during metals recovery that mean not all components can be isolated United Nations Environment Programme, a.

A shift in focus to reducing consumption and, in addition, better product design United Nations Environment Programme, b. Closing the loop on metals use is possible because in theory all metals are recyclable, though we are some years away from achieving such a system Reck and Graedel, Improving consumer access to recycling and streamlining manufacturing processes can be a more efficient and economically viable method of sourcing metals than mining virgin ore and could greatly reduce or even negate the need for exploitation of seabed mineral resources.

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