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Seafloor Mining

Seafloor Mining: how little we know

Seafloor or Space

Which do we know the most about and which is technically easier, hint it is not on this planet.

Sea Mining 

There has been recent talk about space mining, a lot about the difficulty of mining in space and how little we know about it.  Yet we probably know less about the oceans and the difficulties in mining there.

The oceans cover almost 75% of the earth’s surface, yet except for fishing and transportation, we hardly utilize them.  So this raises a question; is seafloor mining feasible?  That depends on what you mean by seafloor to some extent.  There has been and currently are several mining operations that recover minerals from the ocean floor.  The majority of them are modifications of river dredging carried out in the seas.

We probably have explored less than 10% of the oceans floor.  In fact we probably know more about the minerals resources of the moon then of the deep ocean floor.  NASA’s Magellan spacecraft mapped 98% of the surface of Venus to a resolution of around 100 meters. 100% of Mar’s has also been mapped to that resolution and 60% has been mapped at around 20m resolution.  The moon’s surface has also been mapped to 7m resolution.  While the resolution of deep seafloor mapping is at  5 km.

 It also may be easier to get to the moon then the deep oceans floor.  The same number of people have walked on the moon as have traveled to deepest depths of the oceans (four).    We regularly send people into space for extended periods of time (see the International Space Station), and just recently took detailed images of Pluto.

The majority of ocean mining to date has been in shallow waters by dredges.  Historically dredging has been a source of minerals for a long time, how long.  I imagine that there have been many instances of someone using a dredge in a river and gradually moving out into coastal waters.

One of the longest operations has been tin dredging in Indonesia which has been in operation in one form or another for well over 100 years.  Then there are the gold dredging in the Bearing Sea, and diamonds off the coast of Namibia.

Most of these have been on the continental shelf at depths under 150 m (490 ft), in fact most of them are at depths of under 30 m (100 ft). 

During the 1960’s several countries and organizations looked at recovering manganese nodules from deep oceans.  This never amounted to much.   Currently Nautilus Minerals and Neptune Minerals are proposing an operation at 1400 m (4600 ft) for a massive sulfide deposit related to undersea hydrothermal vent systems.

With the average ocean depth being at 4,200 m (14,000 ft), there can be much more to explore.  Add to this the difficulty of mining under very high pressures. 



MIke Albrecht, P.E.

o   40+ years’ experience in the mining industry with strong mineral processing experience in precious metals, copper, industrial minerals, coal, and phosphate

o   Operational experience in precious metals, coal, and phosphate plus in petrochemicals.

o   Extensive experience performing studies and determining feasibility in the US and international (United States, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, and Greece).

o    E-mail: