Global research partnership mines new depths

Australian Maritime College

Oct 31 2013

The ocean’s floors contain tonnes of rare metals like gold and silver in addition to other important metals such as cobalt, nickel and chromium. However, very little is known about how to safely undertake exploratory work in the harsh deep sea environment.

An international research partnership between AMC, the University of Tasmania and the University of British Columbia aims to help uncover the issues surrounding the new field of deep sea mining.

Dr Rehan Sadiq, Acting Director and Professor at UBC’s School of Engineering (Okanagan Campus), Canada, recently spent four weeks at AMC to initiate this research collaboration and identify concepts that warrant further investigation.

The visiting research fellow, an expert in the field of ocean environmental risk analysis, says there are four major potential areas of research interest in deep sea mining:

  • Environmental and ecological impacts of mining operations
  • Technology development  related to remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles – whether they can work under the pressure of 2 to 4km ocean depth
  • Health and safety issues at the platform
  • Policies and guidelines – risk-based decision-making

Dr Sadiq is interested in environmental risk analysis and how this risk can be minimised and mitigated with the right decisions and policies.

“The challenge that we are facing is there is very little information out there in the open literature so developing the guidelines is difficult,” he said.

“We intend to think more on this idea and write a white paper to see the current state of knowledge on these four aspects. Based on that, we’ll come up with some ideas on what to focus on and where the strength of our group lies.”

The group has combined expertise in the areas of AUV technologies, dredging, offshore oil and gas activities, and environmental and safety related risk analyses. The aim is to align this experience to deep sea mining research.

“There are lots of unknowns in deep sea mining research – maybe 70 to 80 per cent of the environment at that depth is not known,” Dr Sadiq said.

“The challenge is – if we don’t know what is safe, then how can we make it safe? It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem.”

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