Motherboard And that will mean dispatching a fleet of giant remote-operated robotic miners 5,000 feet below the surface to harvest the riches scattered across ocean floor. by Brian Merchant
'These mammoth underwater vehicles look like they’ve been hauled off the set of a sci-fi film—think Avatar meets The Abyss. And they'll be dredging up copper, gold, and other valuable minerals, far beneath the gaze of human eyes.
'It’s a little-watched but fast-approaching milestone that raises serious questions about the future of consumption in our rapidly modernizing, mineral-hungry world: How deep are we willing to dive to get the materials that make our electronics run?
'The idea of razing the barely-studied deep sea floor has many anxious—from locals who worry about an accident, to scientists who fear we may be destroying an ecosystem we don’t yet understand. But as crucial materials like copper grow scarcer, might mining the deep, far away from human populations, be a reasonable endeavor? Or should the mere fact that we’re poised to roll over the ocean floor with robotic harvesters be cause enough to take pause and reassess the sustainability of our thirst for the metals that shape modern life?
'Regardless, the first deep sea mine is slated to begin operations in just over two years, at a site called Solwara-1, leased from the Papua New Guinean government. It's just off the coast of Rabaul, at the watery foot of that active volcano.'
Cindy van Dover, a deep sea scientist with Duke University: “The cumulative impacts are what’s really hard. Solwara-1, yes, go ahead and mine S-1, and let’s see what happens. But what about the next one? What’s the tipping point? How many of these sites could you destroy? And at what tempo, before it doesn’t come back? I think S-1 would come back if nothing else is touched. If you touch something else in that basin, how much is too much? Two? I don’t know.”