For some time, the seafloor has been postulated as the next big mining thing, akin to a modern-day gold rush. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, rules governing deep-sea mining are in the works but are not scheduled to come into force until the end of 2018. Until then, commercial deep-sea mining is not allowed, at least in bodies of water governed by The International Seabed Authority, the world's only body charged, by its member nations, with regulating the issue.
In the meantime, however, nearly two-dozen contracts have been issued for mining exploration operations in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
It's easy to understand why. The bottom of the sea, depending on where you are, can be rich in the kinds of nodules of metal Purser noted. The so-called polymetallic nodules can contain a whole host of metals, including nickel, aluminum, silicone, rare earth metals, and iron.
"These nodules look a bit like a potato, and are made up of rings of different shells of metal-rich layers," Purser explained. "They are interesting to companies, as many of the metals contained are 'high-tech' metals, useful in producing mobile phones and other modern computing equipment, and most of the land sources of these metals have already been found and are becoming more expensive to buy."
Minerals sparking exploratory interest are also found among deep-sea hydrothermal vents, making those areas attractive targets for mining too. Such sites, meanwhile, are as rich in life as they are in metals. Recently, for example, hydrothermal vent stacks in the Indian Ocean turned up six new marine species, amid a football-field-sized cluster of vent "chimneys" that are slated for future mining exploration.
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