Context of Deep Ocean Mission:
Union Ministry of Earth Sciences announced on July 27 that the ₹8,000-crore plan to explore deep ocean minerals as there is an in-principle approval to go ahead with the mission hoping to launch by October 31.
Why the Deep Ocean Mission and its purpose:
- The main aim of the mission is to explore and extract polymetallic nodules.
- These are small potato-like rounded accretions composed of minerals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide.
- They lie scattered on the Indian Ocean floor at depths of about 6,000 m and the size can vary from a few millimetres to centimeters.
- According to a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the estimated polymetallic nodule resource potential in this area is 380 million tonnes (MT), containing 4.7 MT of nickel, 4.29 MT of copper, 0.55 MT of cobalt and 92.59 MT of manganese.
Potential locations and investors:
- India was the first country to receive the status of a Pioneer Investor in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.
- Apart from the CIOB, polymetallic nodules have been identified from the central Pacific Ocean. It is known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone
- China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia and also some small islands such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati have joined the race for deep-sea mining.
- Most of the countries have tested their technologies in shallow waters and are yet to start deep-sea extraction.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an autonomous international organisation established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, allots the ‘area’ for deep-sea mining.
India’s preparation for Mining:
- In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA and after complete resource analysis of the seabed 50% was surrendered and the country retained an area of 75,000 sq km.
- With analysis narrowed down to 18,000 sq km which will be the ‘First Generation Mine-site’.
- India’s mining site is at about a depth of 5,500 metres, where there is a high pressure and extremely low temperature.
- Technology demonstration has been performed with artificial nodules at 500 metres depth.
- Remotely Operated Vehicle and In-situ Soil Tester in the depth of 6,000 metres has been developed.
- The mining machine newly developed for 6000 meters depth was able to move about 900 meters and will be deployed soon at 5,500 meters.
- A riser system comprising an umbilical cable or electromechanical cable and a hose is being developed can help bring the nodules up to the surface
- According to the IUCN, Such mining expeditions can make deep remote locations unique species extinct.
- Science will never come to know about their adaptability to poor oxygen and sunlight, high pressure and extremely low temperatures.
- The deep sea’s biodiversity and ecology remain poorly understood, making it difficult to assess the environmental impact and frame adequate guidelines.
- The sediment plumes that will be generated as the suspended particles can rise to the surface harming the filter feeders in the upper ocean layers.
- The noise and light pollution from the mining vehicles and oil spills from the operating vessels will be harmful.
- The latest estimate from the ISA says it will be commercially viable only if about three million tonnes are mined per year.
- More studies are being carried out to understand how the technology can be scaled up and used efficiently.
- A new set of exploitation guidelines including strict guidelines for exploration needs to be balanced and framed.