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At Solwara-1, Nautilus is going after a type of deposit known as Seafloor Massive Sulfides (SMS), which form next to subsea hydrothermal vents at the margins of tectonic plates.
The deposits, which include copper, gold, and potentially other valuable minerals, collect after cold water seeps into the earth and becomes geothermally heated, dissolving metals and sulfides from the surrounding rocks before being spewed back out of the vent at temperatures up to 400 degrees Celsius and collecting on the sea floor — along with the minerals brought up from below.
The mining robots have been designed to operate in near-freezing temperatures, under pressure 150 times greater than at sea level.
The first robot, the auxiliary cutter, carves a level path to make way for the second machine, the bulk cutter, which is equipped with a wide, powerful cutting drum.
The third robot, called the collecting machine, follows behind them, slurping up the seawater slurry with a consistency like wet cement through internal pumps before sending the material to the ship at the surface via a riser system.