Protecting Earth's Final Frontier -- The Deep Sea

3 June 2013

Source: Huff Post, TED Weekends

Author: Richard Steiner

It may be understandable that a terrestrial primate such as ourselves would pay little attention to a world so foreign, inaccessible, and inhospitable as the deep sea, but with growing threats to the region, it's time we do so.

Historically, most human interaction with the ocean world has been limited to shallow coastal areas, for fisheries, recreation, oil drilling, etc. Farther offshore, most human experience has been limited to ship travel across the two-dimensional sea surface, ignoring the dark realm deep beneath the waves.

The largest and least understood component of Earth's biosphere, the deep sea biome (below 1,000 meters depth), covers 60 percent of Earth's surface. This mysterious region has no sunlight, low physical energy, low temperatures, extreme pressure, high biodiversity, and high sensitivity to human disturbance. Fewer people have been to the deep ocean than to outer space.

Although this inaccessible realm has long been out-of-sight, out-of-mind for humans, with the rapid development of deep-sea technology, industry now considers the region to be the last, yet most formidable, resource frontier on Earth.

At present, large oil and gas reservoirs are being developed in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico (where the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred), Brazil, East Asia, West Africa, and the Arctic. A dozen state/private mining consortia, interested in mining polymetallic (manganese, iron, copper, nickel, etc.) nodules, have been issued seabed mineral exploration leases across an expansive deep sea fracture-zone between Baja and Hawaii in the Pacific. Companies are expressing interest in mining cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts on seamounts, and some are poised to begin the first commercial mining (for gold and copper) at deep-sea hydrothermal vents off Papua New Guinea, with other South Pacific nations soon to follow. And there are interests in deep-sea waste disposal (dredge spoil, mine tailings, radioactive materials, carbon dioxide, etc.), commercial fishing, and methane hydrate extraction.

For more, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-steiner/protecting-earths-final-frontier_b_3354780.html