20 December 2013
Source: Huff Post Green
Author: Sophie Cocke
HONOLULU -- Last summer, a team of Japanese scientists boarded the University of Hawaii’s Kaimikai O Kanaloa, a 223-foot, high-tech research ship docked in Honolulu Harbor, and headed out to sea. Their mission was to explore whether they will be able to tap into billions of dollars worth of coveted minerals that are believed to sit 5,000 meters beneath the sea in an area that runs from about 500 miles southeast of Hawaii toward Mexico. Japan is one of more than a dozen countries angling to profit off the vast mineral deposits that span 6 million square kilometers — an area the size of the United States — in what's known as the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.
Such deep sea mineral mining would be unprecedented. But as land-based deposits of high-value minerals are depleted, causing prices to rise, tapping into a vast well of underwater resources is becoming more plausible. “This mining, when it occurs, is going to be just massive in scale. It probably will have the largest footprint of any single human activity on the planet,” said Craig Smith, a UH oceanographer.
Hawaii is particularly well situated to take advantage of the undersea bounty. International teams of mineral prospectors are making Honolulu Harbor a departure point for their expeditions into the area. The University of Hawaii has already earned millions of dollars by leasing out research vessels for prospecting trips by international teams, some of which are looking for their piece of a massive mineral rush.
But even as the university is profiting from burgeoning interest, UH professors are working on a framework to ensure that it does not become a Wild West for out-of-control corporate prospectors.