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Deep sea mining is a relatively new mineral retrieval process that takes place on the ocean floor. Ocean mining sites are usually around large areas of polymetallic nodules or active and extinct hydrothermal vents at about 1,400 - 3,700 meters below the ocean’s surface.[1] The vents create sulfide deposits, which contain precious metals such as silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc.[2][3] The deposits are mined using either hydraulic pumps or bucket systems that take ore to the surface to be processed. As with all mining operations, deep sea mining raises questions about environmental damages to the surrounding areas.

In the mid 1960s the prospect of deep-sea mining was brought up by the publication of J. L. Mero's Mineral Resources of the Sea.[4] The book claimed that nearly limitless supplies of cobalt, nickel and other metals could be found throughout the planet's oceans. Mero stated that these metals occurred in deposits of manganese nodules, which appear as lumps of compressed sediment on the sea floor at depths of about 5,000 m. Some nations including France, Germany and the United States sent out research vessels in search of nodule deposits. Initial estimates of deep sea mining viability turned out to be much exaggerated. This overestimate, coupled with depressed metal prices, led to the near abandonment of nodule mining by 1982. From the 1960s to the 1984 an estimated US $650 million had been spent on the venture, with little to no return.[5]

Over the past decade a new phase of deep-sea mining has begun. Rising demand for precious metals in Japan, China, Korea and India has pushed these countries in search of new sources. Interest has recently shifted toward hydrothermal vents as the source of metals instead of scattered nodules. The trend of transition towards an electricity based information and transportation infrastructure currently seen in western societies further pushes demands for precious metals. The current revived interest in phosphorus nodule mining at the seafloor stems from phosphor-based artificial fertilizers being of significant importance for world food production. Growing world population pushes the need for artificial fertilizers or greater incorporation of organic systems within agricultural infrastructure.[6]

Currently, the best potential deep sea site, the Solwara 1 Project, has been found in the waters off Papua New Guinea, a high grade copper-gold resource and the world's first Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) resource.[7] The Solwara 1 Project is located at 1600 metres water depth in the Bismarck Sea, New Ireland Province.[7] Using the latest ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicles) technology, Nautilus Minerals Inc. will be the first company of its kind to begin full-scale undersea excavation of mineral deposits.[8] First production is expected in early 2013.[7][9]

The deep sea contains many different resources available for extraction, including silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc. These raw materials are found in various forms on the sea floor, usually in higher concentrations than terrestrial mines.



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Deep-Sea Mining and Exploration
Monday, November 6, 2006

By Dan Oancea - Twitter

A few decades ago the prospect of offshore gas and oil production looked more like a Vernian fantasy. Nowadays, a large share of world’s oil and gas production come from the bottom of the seas.

What about minerals? Let’s start with the beautiful and hard carbon crystals: diamonds.

During the Cretaceous period a continental uplift generated a great deal of erosion for the South African land mass which hosts diamondiferous kimberlites deposits. Some 1,400 meters of kimberlite have been eroded and carried away by paleo river systems; with them an estimated 3 billion carats of diamonds found their way and a resting place in paleo river terraces along the Orange River, paleo beaches and marine deposits on the Namibian and South African coast of Atlantic. It is estimated that these marine deposits host 90% of the ‘fugitive’ diamonds’ total. The sorting and accumulation of diamonds took place on and near shorelines that are marked by numerous onshore and offshore old marine terraces (they witness sea level fluctuations). Depressions of the hard bedrock constituted traps, where rich pockets of diamonds have been found.

In 1908, over 40 years after the discovery of the first kimberlite pipe in South Africa, a railway construction worker found the first diamond near Luderitz, Namibia. A diamond rush ensued in the desert resulting in booming mining towns and in fencing of a large area, the Sperrgebiet (i.e.’ Forbidden Area’ in German). Note: A 2004 press release stated that as a result of an agreement with De Beers, the Sperrgebiet area now falls completely under the control of the Namibian government, which intends to declare it a National Park.

Old marine terraces had been found to be diamondiferous and beach deposits have started to be mined in the 1930s. In 1961 Sammy Collins, a Texan entrepeneur, did something that nobody believed to be possible: diamond mining of the shallow sea floor of South Africa.

Mining operations ceased in 1971 because of a slump in the price of diamonds, but small-scale shallow operations continued over the years. In the 1990s deep-water mining operations started with renewed vigor offshore the Namibian and South African coasts. Namibia has the richest marine diamond deposits in the world – 1.5 billion carats.

It was estimated that over 100 million carats have been produced in that area since 1908.

As there is no textbook for marine diamond mining, everything had to be invented and/or adapted – the exploration, sampling and mining technology and procedures. For exploration and sampling they used sonar equipment, shallow reflection seismic profiling, sonic rock drilling and grab sampling. For mining, water jets blast through the sediments which are then airlifted onboard, processed and X-ray sorted. The best method of monitoring the profitability is to calculate carats per hour of dredging. Grade is expressed in carats per square meter rather than carats per tonne (cpt). Adverse winds and sea swells are greatly affecting this type of marine operations. [Seabed Crawler. Ph. Credit: Delcon Marine&Industrial]

De Beers used a 6 meter diameter drill head which cut into the sediments and air-lifted them on board of the ship and they also used seabed crawlers (remote-controlled tracked mining vehicles fitted with submersible dredge pumps and hydraulic jetting motors).

De Beers proved to be able to profitable run a relatively shallow offshore Namibian operation. At the same time they were the first to develop a suitable technology for mining deep-sea diamond deposits.

Earlier this year they announced that a new vessel will join their mining fleet. The “Peace in Africa” is under construction in Newcastle, UK and it will be the first ship to mine deep-sea diamond deposits on their offshore Sasa concession in South African waters. In Cape Town, DCD-Dorbyl offshore operation is building a 260 t undersea crawler; while another South African supplier is busy fabricating a 250 tph diamond treatment plant, which is going to be installed on board of the ship. The ship is supposed to dock in Cape Town before Christmas and the offshore mining operations are due to begin in the second quarter of 2007. The operation is supposed to generate a 250,000 ct/y production.

The Namibian offshore waters are also being scoured with mixed success by a group of determined exploration/mining companies.

Diamond Fields International operates its own vessel, the mv Diamond Fields Discoverer, a twin air-lift diamond mining vessel. Their Luderitz ML 111 property is a joint-venture exploration project with Bonaparte Diamond Mines. The latter operates the Fremantle mining ship, which boasts a proprietary seabed sampler: it has 5 m overall length and samples a 1.13 sq m area over a 5 m depth; a water jet liberate seabed sediments, which are then airlifted and processed on the board of the ship. The company also tested Western Australian offshore paleo river channels in the Cambridge Gulf area, with disappointing results to date.

Afri-Can Marine Minerals Corp. successfully explored their Namibian Block J marine diamond placer deposit and in October 2006 began the first phase of a resource delineation program.

Other minerals are also known to line up the sea bed. In 1978, Inco lifted on-board some 800 t of polymetallic nodules from a depth of almost 5,500 m. They are rich in manganese, copper and cobalt and represent metal concretions generated by a precipitation of metals from sea water. Subsequently, metal prices fell and nobody was interested in mining the ocean depths anymore.

In 1977 a small NOAA submersible stumbled upon something new: black smokers. They represent hydrothermal vents that riddle the sea floor in active plate zones along the Pacific “ring of fire”. Sea water percolates through crust, takes into solution metals and then a superheated pregnant solution vents through a chimney-like structure, sometime as tall as 30 m; metals spewed as a black smoke are deposited in the proximal area, thus forming sulphide crusts (i.e. ore deposits). It is a process similar with the one that was responsible for the genesis of nowadays land situated massive sulphide deposits. The black smoker ore deposits are rich in gold, copper and zinc.

In 1997, Julian Malnic, an Australian mining news writer acquired offshore exploration licences in Papua New Guinea; Nautilus Minerals Inc. was born. Subsequently, the company went public in Canada.

In 1999, Simon McDonald, an Australian geologist followed suit and established its Neptune Minerals, a London based company. Its target: the offshore waters of New Zealand.

The international organization in charge with regulating sea mining is the International Seabed Authority. Limited research revealed that the coastal waters of Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Indonesia and Japan host almost 200 black smoker deposits, many of which contain some 5 to 10 million tones of ore. The problem is that they lie to an average depth of 2,100 m.

GNS Science a New Zealand Crown Research Institute posts a useful map called the Global Distribution of Arcs and Vents.

Another site that you could also visit is the International Marine Minerals Society’s site. It is a professional society whose members share a common interest in marine mineral deposits. They are also a sponsor for the Underwater Mining Institute - the annual conference on marine minerals.

In Papua New Guinea on their Solwara property, Nautilus looks for black smokers and their associated ‘ore fields’ by employing an underwater camera, which is also able to measure salinity, water temperature and magnetism. Sampling was done by a small submersible equipped with robotic arms and drills.

Good exploration results brought not only a well-deserved recognition for the small pioneer company but also some cash too: Giant miners stepped in and today Barrick owns a 9.59 per cent stake in Nautilus. On October 30, 2006 Anglo-American agreed to invest $25 million in Nautilus and to provide technical assistance.

On October 4, 2006 Nautilus announced that it had signed a deal with a Belgian dredging company specialized in building deep-sea mining ships. A 191 m vessel to be named Jules Verne will be delivered by 2009. That is the year when the company expects to begin mining its Papuan underwater mineral kingdom.

Nautilus envisages that two remote controlled vehicles would roll on the sea bed and grind some 400 t of ore per hour; the gold-copper ore will be then air-lifted on the vessel and subsequently loaded on barges. The ore will be processed on land. The company plans to produce 150,000 t of copper and some 400,000 ounces gold per year.

Neptune Minerals has exploration rights over 35,000 sq km of New Zealand waters. Their quest for what they call Seafloor Massive Sulphides (metal accumulations rich in copper, lead, zinc, gold and silver) was only partially successful. The 120 m to 1,800 m offshore exploration areas lie along two distinctive volcanic arcs: the Colville and Kermadec ridges. To date, samples collected from steep slopes returned no significant metal accumulations.

Even though technically possible the mining of the deep sea floor has to overcome another obstacle: a fair environmental assessment. A rich, diverse, unusual and little known association of plants, animals and bacteria live in this hostile environment. The mining companies claim that they will not mine the active vents; they are interested in mining the spent vents and their associated proximal layers of metal accumulation, so the disturbance will be minimal as there is almost no overburden to be removed. The same thing is claimed by deep sea diamond mining companies even though in their case a broad area has been disturbed by marine tailings discharge. The underwater miners stated that their operations are not causing more disturbance than those generated by offshore oil companies.

A novel exploration frontier is now open. Consider that water covers some 70% of the Earth’s surface and we know less about our oceans than about Moon or Mars. In the near future more geoscientists, miners and engineers will become aware of the new vast resource that lies underwater. And hopefully they will be more motivated in studying Marine Geology.

http://technology.infomine.com/articles/1/99/deep-sea-mining.undersea-miners.black-smoker/deep-sea.mining.and.aspx

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Reading List:

Basic Concrete Engineering for Builders with CDROM / Design of Concrete Structures / Strength Design for Reinforced - Concrete Hydraulic Structures Engineering Manual on CD / Design of Offshore Concrete Structures / Construction of Marine and Offshore Structures, Second Edition (Civil Engineering - Advisors) / The Dock Manual: Designing/Building/Maintaining / Theory and Design of Concrete Shells / Thin Shell Concrete Structures / design procedures of reinforced concrete shell structures (JGJT 22-98) / Understanding Structures / Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-made Material / Concrete Construction Manual (Construction Manuals (englisch)) / Large Wind Turbines: Design and Economics / Dynamics of Offshore Structures / Offshore Technology in Civil Engineering / Design of Offshore Concrete Structures / Concrete in the Marine Environment (Modern Concrete Technology) /

Ship-Shaped Offshore Installations: Design, Building, and Operation / Developments in Offshore Engineering: Wave Phenomena and Offshore Topics / Wave Forces on Offshore Structures / Subsea Engineering Handbook / Nonlinear Waves and Offshore Structures (Advanced Series on Ocean Engineering) (Advanced Series on Ocean Engineering) / The Maritime Engineering Reference Book: A Guide to Ship Design, Construction and Operation / Marine Hydrodynamics / Random Seas and Design of Maritime Structures (Ocean Engineering) (Advanced Series on Ocean Engineering) /

-- Edited by admin on Saturday 17th of March 2012 06:32:28 PM

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  1. NIOT ::::: Technology Projects > Deep Sea Mining > Introduction

    www.niot.res.in/projects/dsm/dsm_introduction.php
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