Norwegian Discovery Triggers Fears Underwater Arctic Mining Could Cause Damage

© Sputnik/ V. Chistyakov

© Sputnik/ V. Chistyakov

Sputnik International | 13 September 2016

Recent finds of copper and other valuable deposits on the seabed between the Norwegian archipelagos of Jan Mayen and Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean have stirred hopes for commercial underwater mining. Despite Oslo’s hopefulness, the idea has been denounced by scientists and ecologists as unfeasible and environmentally destructive.

A recent expedition in Arctic waters launched by a mixed crew of Norwegian and foreign researchers confirmed previous research, conducted by, among others, the University of Bergen, that geological formations along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge may be very rich in copper, zinc, silver and gold.

“We have charted a lot of copper on the seabed between Jan Mayen and Svalbard. Perhaps in 20 years commercial mining may start in this area at a depth of 2,300-3,000 meters,” Martin Ludvigsen, a professor at the Department of Marine Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and expedition leader told the Norwegian national broadcaster NRK. “We have also found lesser deposits of gold and silver, but it is copper that is most valuable,” Ludvigsen said.

Prior to the expedition on board the research vessel Polar King, which relied on underwater robots and was lauded as a major success, Martin Ludvigsen wrote an article in Norwegian economic newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, together with his colleagues at NTNU, Kurt Aasly and Steinar Løve Ellefmo.

“Through crises come changes. Norway should take this opportunity to clarify the industrial potential of mineral extraction on the seabed. The first step in a national Norwegian campaign would be to step up efforts to collect data on the quantity and quality of resources. Moreover, efforts to develop the relevant technologies must be intensified, while administrative aspects must be clarified. Simultaneously, focus should be placed on sustainability and environmental issues,” the researchers wrote in their opinion piece.

The Norwegian researchers noted an increasing global interest in seabed minerals. Japan, South Korea, China, India, Germany, Russia and France are all countries that have established large national programs to explore the potential for mineral extraction on the seabed. Norway, which possesses a long tradition and great expertise in the maritime industry, such as offshore oil and gas and marine science, should utilize their knowledge in order to avoid being left behind and miss out on great potential opportunities, the researchers pointed out.

According to Professor Martin Ludvigsen, further research must be conducted before the unearthed mineral deposits on in the North Atlantic can be exploited.

The environmental organization Greenpeace has already expressed criticism over plans for deep-sea mining.

“Naturally, we believe it is important to chart the deep waters. But then it becomes more important to look for exciting things that you do not know anything about and that need protection, than to search for minerals that may be utilized with considerable environmental damage,” Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace Norway told NRK.

Jan Mayen is a partly glacier-covered volcanic island in the Arctic Ocean and a part of Norway, lying 600 kilometers northeast of Iceland, 500 kilometers east of central Greenland and 1,000 kilometers west of the North Cape, Norway.

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