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Mining robot stranded on Pacific Ocean floor in deep-sea mining trial (reuters.com)
83 points by giuliomagnifico 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 116 comments





The text makes it sound like a non-violent sort of event, like someone forgot to insert a locking pin or something. As opposed to something like unexpected external forces ripping it loose.

"On its final dive in the GSR area, a lifting point separated and Patania II now stands on the seafloor,"

"An operation to reconnect the lifting point begins this evening and we will provide an update in due course."

Also, a picture of it with people, so the scale is more clear: https://www.deme-gsr.com/wp-content/uploads/coverfoto-gsr_pa...


Seems like these freaking huge tracks will treat deep-sea coral nicely

It's the size of a typical tank. This will do as much harm to coral or whatever is down there as one (1) WW2 tank did to the Black Forest.

Meanwhile, dissolved CO₂ is killing coral on a global scale. That seems like a very misplaced concern.


The comparison to a WW2 tank in the Black Forest isn't great though, because the environments live on different timescales.

A forest can regrow and thrive after a few decades. The same is _not_ true for the deep sea[1].

'Life on the ocean floor moves at a glacial pace. Sediment accumulates at a rate of 1 millimeter every millennium. With such a slow rate of growth, areas disturbed by deep-sea mining would be unlikely to recover on a reasonable timescale.'

[1]: https://news.mit.edu/2019/understanding-impact-deep-sea-mini...


Are they mining in sensitive areas? Isn't there an equivalent of an underwater deserts with little life/biodiversity? Not to diminish this idea, but the ocean covers >70% of the earth so I would think this could be done somewhere with relatively little impact, but maybe I am wrong.

This area with nothing in it sounds like the oil spill “outside the environment” in the very excellent comedy skit “The Front Fell Off”. https://youtu.be/3m5qxZm_JqM

Edit: Linked to official channel. Thank you for the correction.


Might be nice to link to the official Clarke and Dawe channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m5qxZm_JqM ) rather than some knock off reupload. RIP John Clarke.

Not really. We already mine on land that covers only 30% of earth, I would think that would have a much bigger impact. Second, and oil spill spreads far and wide contaminating a vast area. All I am saying is mining can in theory be contained to a much smaller area.

I'm not sure our knowledge of the ocean is sufficient at this point to designate an area as "non sensitive".

And no fish nurseries in deep waters mean not mesopelagic fish. We could distroy it in a week, and the negative consequences over the human famine would be basically permanent. It just does not worth it.

This machine totally destroys the ocean floor. Environmental destruction.

Is it more destructive than Cobalt mining elsewhere? What about when taking account developing nation violence?

At least from the photo it doesn't look like they are dredging fish reefs.

Though I don't trust the behavior of these corporations & developing nations use loose or non-existent maritime regulations to scoop up, net, and kill more fish than we can sustain and just completely wreck the last untouched environments we have.


umm.. it's not lost, the current title is too clickbaity.

> "On its final dive in the GSR area, a lifting point separated and Patania II now stands on the seafloor," a GSR spokesman said in an emailed statement.

> A spokesman for GSR said the company has not lost control of Patania II, and that projects like this always have challenges to contend with.


Submitted title was "25tons seabed mining robot prototype was lost at 4km depth in Pacific Ocean". That broke the site guidelines: "Please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait; don't editorialize."

Submitters: please don't do that. We eventually take submission privileges away from accounts that do.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Flashing back to the Glomar Explorer/Project Azorian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Azorian

"lost" may be overstating things a bit.

It appears that the tether became disconnected, and they're working to reconnect it.


I don't really know anything about geology so apologies if this is a naive question: Is the effort to mine under the ocean predicated on the belief that we only have access to ~29% of the precious metals / diamonds etc. because that's just how much of earth's surface isn't underwater?

There's this blurb from the company website:

"Polymetallic nodules are lumps of minerals that range in size from just a few millimeters to tens of centimeters and are found in the abyssal areas of the oceans basins of the world. Known deposits are found in various quantities around a water depth of 3500 to 6000 meters. They lie on a relatively flat seafloor of soft sediment in a large surface area. It is estimated that the nodules present in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) contain more nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn) and cobalt (Co) than all land-based reserves combined. Furthermore, they contain significant amounts of copper (Cu) and molybdenum (Mo) (1)."

https://www.deme-gsr.com/exploration/


There are a few factors pushing it, I think:

* There's thought to be several regions of the seabed where the mining operation can basically just scoop up the top layer and get economically extractable ore out of it.

* The seabed is international waters, not under the jurisdiction of any country. I know UNCLOS does prescribe some rules for deep-sea mining, but it wouldn't surprise me if some of the ambitions for mining here were based off of being able to dodge undesired (from the mining companies' perspective) national rules around mining, such as taxes or environmental regulations.

* The ocean floor is a lot more of a dead zone than anything terrestrial. (That doesn't mean it's entirely dead). Again, I suspect many are hoping that environmental destructiveness in the seafloor goes much more unnoticed, because there's much less love for preserving microscopic Archaea species than fluffy birds or the like.


without research, my feeling is that it is not a fertile place, but instead a resting place for foul substances and toxins that settle. So the damage is not like a tank running through a forest, rather it is more like stirring up a foul soup


let's ask this fellow then: https://www.soest.hawaii.edu/soestwp/about/directory/craig-s...

Is this a case where most people would expect nasty nothingness, and therefore the discovery of "creatures greater than 2cm" megafauna is "surprisingly diverse" ?


It's true that it's in international waters, but there is an International Seabed Authority that administers the area. We can argue whether they should have allowed mining here, but it's not a naked land grab. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipperton_Fracture_Zone

I know that mining methane hydrate off of the ocean floor has been a discussion. We would be wise to try and get that out and contain it / burn it before it is released into the atmosphere as pure methane.

It's been forming there for a billion years. There's no hurry.

Global warming is causing undersea methane to be released much faster than it has in the past.

> For the second year in a row, his team have found crater-like pockmarks in the shallower parts of the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea that are discharging bubble jets of methane, which is reaching the sea surface at levels tens to hundreds of times higher than normal.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/oct/27/sleeping-gia...


The hurry is if warming temperatures cause it all to sublimate and release rapidly as gas, AKA the clathrate gun.

Its distribution is sparse and on the surface. Its been forming for a billion years. Conclusion: it's sublimating all the time and being replaced.

If there's any danger, its from the billions of cubic meters under the ocean floor (the source of the nodules, seeping from underneath). More carbon than all the oil we ever burned in our civilization so far.

Is that in any danger of accelerated release? I've not heard of that.


> Conclusion: it's sublimating all the time and being replaced.

In the long-term, yes, it will eventually reach a steady state. In the long term, though, we'll all be dead.

In the short-term, on timescales that human beings care about, no, we can release too much of it too quickly, before the system reaches a steady equilibrium. Methane has an atmospheric half-life measured in decades, so getting too much of it, too fast, can significantly spike temperatures.


The areas of the seafloor containing these nodules have some of the lowest sedimentation rates in the world ocean — this is why these deposits are exposed more or less at the sediment-water interface, and not buried in terrigenous sediment derived from land or surface pelagic calcifiers (plankton). Significant time in a geologically stable setting is also required for these oxides to form — their rate of formation is extremely slow.

I daydream that an undersea civilization resented the pillaging of their entire ecosystem and attacked the mining robot in self-defense.

But no, probably just a mechanical failure. Soon they'll be back to sterilizing the ocean bottom. Sigh.


Edit: ignore this post, I was wrong.

> Thirty years on, the test that Thiel and a colleague devised is still the largest experiment ever on the potential impacts of commercial deep-sea mining. Called DISCOL, the simple trial involved raking the centre of a roughly 11-square-kilometre plot in the Pacific Ocean with an 8-metre-wide implement called a plough harrow. The simulated mining created a plume of disturbed sediment that rained down and buried most of the study area, smothering creatures on the sea floor. The test revealed that the impacts of sea-bed mining reached further than anyone had imagined, but it did not actually extract any rocks from the sea bed, which itself would have destroyed even more marine life.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02242-y


This is probably one of the most fragile, delicate ecosystems on the planet. It could take 100 or 1000 years to recover from the sterilization.

Low-impact? We have very different definitions for that phrase.


Reminds me of that TNG episode where they try to terraform a planet inhabited by sentient crystals, ignorant of the delicate and mousy life already present.

for the lazy: no, not that Thiel

> I daydream that an undersea civilization resented the pillaging of their entire ecosystem and attacked the mining robot in self-defense.

That might be the claustrophobic plot of Underwater (2020). Deep-sea mining operations in the Mariana Trench.



This is not evoking the same kind of drama as the Chillian mining disaster, is it?

I'd suppose there might also be increased interest in mining areas near black smokers and other geologically and biologically active regions of the seabed.

I hope it's not just another cover story to get ahold of a sunken Russian submarine this time ;)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Azorian


'Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story Of American Submarine Espionage', Sherry Sontag covers this story and a number of others of similar ilk.

The aliens from The Abyss are actually back

Or if it is a sub, let's get it out of there to reduce marine pollution.

Fascinating read! Thanks for that link.

Ha! I see our brains are in sync!

Title should be as per article: 25-tonne. (metric unit, equivalent to 25,000kg)

There's only a 10% difference between the two and given that the the weight is rounded to 25 I'd be surprised if it wasn't more than 10% off the true figure.

Going out even further along the precariously pedantic limb - tonne is a measure of mass, not weight. ; )

We've fixed the title now. More at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26984413.

Tons are metric, too (and the default in most of the world).

I don't think it is. A ton is an imperial measurement that is close to a metric tonne. A lot of places use the words ton and tonne to mean a metric tonne, but an imperial ton is a different amount if kilograms to a metric ton/tonne.

"A ton" is a very vague word that can mean lots of things, only one of them being the imperial ton. Some tons can't even be converted to kilograms at all since they're units of volume.

In 'most of the world', especially the English-speaking / metric-using parts, the word 'tonne' is used to clearly and immediately make it clear we're using the metric unit for 1000kg.

The article itself used the word 'tonne' as it was written by / for people that use metric.

'Ton' is a word with myriad meanings, none sensible.


> In 'most of the world', especially the English-speaking / metric-using parts

Most of the world is not speaking English (but it is using the metric system).

> clearly and immediately

Is it because they so obviously stole the word from the French?


> Most of the world is not speaking English (but it is using the metric system).

Okay then.

In most of the English-speaking world, and all of the English-speaking metric world, we use the word tonne.

> Is it because they so obviously stole the word from the French?

Perhaps the North Americans could start calling them Freedom Tonnes?


> Critics, including environmentalist David Attenborough, say seabed mining is untested and has a largely unknown environmental impact. Google, BMW, AB Volvo, and Samsung SDI have backed a call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. > > Dr Sandra Schoettner, deep-sea biologist at Greenpeace, said: "Losing control of a 25-tonne mining machine at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean should sink the idea of ever mining the deep sea."

Sheesh, I guess these particular environment activists can never allow anything new, since we don't know what impact it will have and any failure of any part of a system, no matter how repairable or minor, is ipso facto proof that the project is a disaster. This would be like completely writing off SpaceX after a Starship tank rupture in a launchpad test.

The article seems to indicate that this project is being done responsibly, with oversight and caution. Things will go wrong (as they have), but this wasn't some sort of catastrophic failure like Deepwater Horizon or something. I'm curious to see if they can extract these minerals without doing widespread environmental damage, and I think they should at least be given a chance to prove it or not.


You broke the site guidelines and started a large flamewar with this. That's seriously not cool. We don't want shallow, predictable, nasty discussion here.

At a minimum, you broke these:

"Don't be snarky."

"Eschew flamebait."

"Avoid generic tangents."

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Generic ideological tangents are particularly destructive here.

https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&sor...


I'm very sorry that this happened, and was not at all my intention. I had no idea that the post would be received the way that it was. Usually, if I make a post that has an extreme reaction like this one, I delete it shortly thereafter, but failed to do so here.

While I can understand how my comment could be interpreted as snark or possibly flamebait (despite neither being my intention), I'm not sure I understand the "generic tangents" or straw-manning claims. Can you help me understand which parts of my post cross these boundaries so I can avoid them in the future?


I took it as a generic tangent because it went into a generic critique of environmentalists, and as a straw man because no one would plausibly argue "can never allow anything new".

The 'generic tangent' point doesn't exactly explain itself, but it's so important. This recent comment explains it more, with links to lots of previous explanation, if anyone is interested: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26894739


You're really going for the straw-man argument here I see, there is a huge difference between launching a space ship and creating a new way to mine the earth and destroy the environment.

I understand that they have this little catch-all:

> GSR has said it will only apply for a mining contract if the science shows deep seabed minerals have advantages, from an environmental and social perspective, over relying solely on land mining.

But I'm not going to hold my breath thinking that if they find a rich-enough deposit of minerals - that they wont suddenly discover enough "advantages" for the ocean to now be open to the same decimation as land mining has seen for many years.


GP is a straw man only in the part where it quotes David Attenborough because the quoted concerns weren't related to this accident. The rest of their argument is valid as far as I can tell - please correct me if I'm wrong.

Also, David Attenborough saying seabed mining is untested and has a largely unknown environmental impact is not a great argument either as it stands in the article. It would be helpful if Reuters provided more context or a direct quote.


This study made the rounds in 2020 - Attenborough wrote a forward and was heavily involved in the press:

https://cms.fauna-flora.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FFI_2...


I was quoting from the article. I didn't realize the quote was out of context w/r/t this project. My apologies for perpetuating it.

This. And ocean is really scarce.

Our planet has way more ocean than land. In what way is that scarce?

I'll take the bait.

Planets that are capable of sustaining human life are scarce. Putting aside the divisions on our maps, we have a total of one ocean. Since we have exactly one planet to live on and one ocean to sustain life, I'm gonna go ahead and call that pretty scarce. There's a massive amount of water but if we ruin that one ocean, I believe we all die.

So now it's time for a judgement call: what is so valuable at that depth that you're comfortable having people poke holes in it hoping to determine the science is good and worth the risk?


From a life sustaining perspective, the most important thing the ocean does is absorb CO2 through oceanic churning and phytoplankton. Some might say that the ocean currents are important too because it transfers heat between the north and south, but it has stopped before and only caused greater temperature gradients, but life was still sustained.

How would undersea mining put any of this at risk?


It's all hypothetical, but it's not unimaginable that there are nasty things laying under the layers of ocean snow. Either materials that could poison the ocean, or forms of ancient bacteria that have been dormant (like the anthrax in Siberia that used to be frozen under permafrost).

It would be catastrophic if we released something that could displace phytoplankton in the food chain, but didn't absorb CO2.

It's also possible that those minerals are important to some kind of natural process. I'm not a scientist, so I don't know what that might be, but it's not unfathomable that it's part of some bacterial lifecycle, and that disrupting that bacterial lifecycle could have implications for the rest of ocean life.


I'd be fairly concerned if undersea mining waste or debris started killing off phytoplankton, perhaps by disrupting any of the delicate cycles such as phosphorus, or providing extra iron which may lead to runaway algal blooms or such, and subsequent algal death and oxygen shortage. Since the mining is so deep, we don't know if these effects will stay localized, or if undersea currents will dilute these effects, or anything.

It should be valid to question what harm there could be. Nature is quite fragile, and we should know that, especially seeing what harm industrial processes have had on the atmosphere.

On the other hand, it's quite possible that undersea mining may produce less harm than surface mining, where waste gets dliuted far enough to have less impact. Maybe similar to how salmon farming has to be done where there's a strong enough current to dilute the waste.


Well, there is only a couple of oceans.

After all, water is only 75% of Earth


> I think they should at least be given a chance to prove it or not.

Why? What happens if they are not given that chance?

I don't think there is any responsible way to mine the ocean. Not when Musk's rockets are about to open the "Final Frontier" for us. There is one (1) living planet in the entire known universe. But there are plenty of rocks and minerals and metal just floating around out there for the taking. No environment to damage, eh? (Well, I mean, the rockets pollute a bit. But overall they don't kill the oceans. That's the important bit.)

You have to realize that it's not "environmentalists vs FOO", it's all of us vs. our own greed and stupidity.

"The Earth!? That's where I keep all my stuff!" ~ the Tick


Humans are never going to destroy the environment, only themselves.

But I'm sure the environment can adapt too. I mean, it's not like anyone cared about preserving species and ecosystems before we arrived, catastrophic events happened, population of animales died and arose, for billions of years. Billions.

So we're the latest catastrophic event, big deal. The earth will adapt as it always has and at least we can try to discuss our impact, unlike an asteroid or a syberian forest fire.


Earth will only be habitable for less than 1 billion more years. We do not have any evidence of abstractly intelligent life forms outside of human beings. There is not enough time left for another intellect to evolve.

Like it or not, if we do not successfully become a space-faring species, all life known in the universe will be wiped out.


>all life known in the universe will be wiped out.

Is that a problem for you?

And why would it not come to existence again somewhere eventually?

Its interesting to think about such stuff but it really should not have an impact on decisions we make today because it just not possible to affect a so distant future (thousands of years) in a meaning full way.

Just imagine humans 2000 years ago what could they have possibly done that would have had a positive environmental effect today. And that's just 2000 years ago.

If you apply this to mining the see floor. Do you seriously think that if we today decide that human should not do this that it wont be done in 2000 years? I think is far more likely it just pushed a little back in time an insignificant little, maybe one human life maybe even two who knows but in 4021 no one cares if it started in the year 2021 or 2121 that's for sure.

Also if you want our species to become multi planetary then the only logical thing to do is to use all resources available achieve this as soon as possible. If we used up the resources or have way more humans and no spear resources no one is going to achieve it anymore.


My understanding is that marine ecosystems are interconnected and can be surprisingly sensitive, and that we humans depend on them mre than you'd think. It also makes sense to assume that deep-sea mining is damaging and disruptive by default. It therefore makes sense to be very very cautious about it.

That's as far as I can wrap my head around it. Maybe there are people here with some expertise who can elaborate.


> can never allow anything new, since we don't know what impact it will have

When they say "we don't know the impact" it's on a range from "pretty bad" to "disastrous". Mining never had any kind of net positive impact on the environment so it's not a matter of "hey, maybe we actually help the fish and wildlife by mining here".


>Mining never had any kind of net positive impact on the environment.

The environment would be in much worse shape if industrialization had been fueled with wood rather than coal.

Poisoning a few watersheds in Asia for lithium and cobalt is far preferable to continued oil and coal extraction which would poison orders of magnitude more

There's no good, just less bad and we don't know if undefined impact sea mining is less bad or more bad than the status quo.

I'm inclined to think it's probably worse per amount of material moved than conventional mining but I suspect there may be a few niches where productivity per amount of material moved is sufficiently greater to have a lesser overall impact.


> The environment would be in much worse shape if industrialization had been fueled with wood rather than coal.

No, there would have been no industrialization without fossil fuels. The carbon density of wood is insufficient.


> Poisoning a few watersheds in Asia

There are plenty of ways to rationalize anything into making it seem fine or even great, at least by comparison. Just because it's framed in a binary manner where one option is clearly the worst doesn't make the other option good. It's still a fallacy. Your cynicism might block you from realizing that mining for coal instead of cutting down trees doesn't make it "a net positive" for the environment, just a lower net negative.

So I'm glad that we can agree on one thing though. Mining never had any kind of net positive impact on the environment.


> The environment would be in much worse shape if industrialization had been fueled with wood rather than coal

Wouldn't a wood-powered industrialization period have incentivized the growing of trees?


> Wouldn't a wood-powered industrialization period have incentivized the growing of trees?

A wood-powered industrialization would have led to mass deforestation and then fallen over hard. (Or, more likely, switched fuels.)


> (Or, more likely, switched fuels.)

That, in fact, occurred. Steel was produced using wood charcoal for millennia, denuding huge swaths of forest, which often became desert rather than growing back. Such deserts can sometimes be reclaimed by careful stewardship.


>Poisoning a few watersheds in Asia for lithium and cobalt is far preferable to continued oil and coal extraction.

Seems very cynical and reductive..."a few watersheds"... if one was to replace the ravenous need of workers for privacy in new electric cars...seems like a lot of lithium... here's hoping for fast development of solid state batteries...

but also, isn't it often a case of cost as in how cheap corporations can bilk poorer countries and their political class of important resources...? higher prices/legislation could be a way to force innovation to develop alternative extraction methods...geothermal extraction https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/geothermal-lithium-its-extrac...


Humans as a whole have never had net positive impact on the environment either. Responsible deep-sea mining, with oversight and regulations in place should be allowed. Until we can determine the impact, I don't see why it should be banned outright.

> Humans as a whole have never had net positive impact on the environment either.

It's not written in stone. Check out the story of the Loess plateu: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loess_Plateau#Agriculture_and_...

We destroyed it (it looked like a Lunar landscape) and then we regenerated it.

> Until we can determine the impact, I don't see why it should be banned outright.

You're inverting the logic: you don't set fire to the house and then "determine the impact" afterward.

Keep in mind that the cure for cancer isn't down there, cheap fusion isn't down there, the fountain of youth isn't down there. We don't really need those minerals, we just want to make money. But the time when profit was more important than living healthy oceans has passed, surely?


>We don't really need those minerals, we just want to make money.

They're battery materials. Batteries are important to ensuring the success of intermittent renewable energy sources.


Batteries are not a great idea.

E.g. an electric car should use alcohol fuel and a small generator rather than fancy batteries.

You can grow sugar crops, convert them to fuel (reclaiming the non-fuel parts), and then use that to power your infrastructure. It's carbon-neutral, environmentally sound (waaaaaaay more than batteries), and you can do it today. No sea mines required.

The only downside is that you have to live within your solar power budget, but we have to do that anyway to counter global warming (until cheap fusion becomes a thing.)

Here's a video of Václav Smil at Driva Climate Investment Meeting 2019 giving a talk called "Investing in a changing climate – what we can learn from historic energy transitions". https://youtu.be/gkj_91IJVBk The presentation is IMO very interesting, and the conclusion is sobering: "Only absolute cuts in energy use would work." ( https://youtu.be/gkj_91IJVBk?t=2283 )

We are going to have to use less energy. We don't have to endure lower QoL but we do have to achieve our Quality of Life more efficiently.


Electricity can come from whatever source you need. You're not tied to a specific fuel with batteries like you are with an ICE or would be with the alcohol/generator system you proposed. You can charge a Tesla off of an alcohol generator and have it drive the same as if you charged it with a diesel or petrol generator. The same can't be said about alcohol- or petrol-powered vehicles.

Global catastrophe blocks out the sun? Fine, charge off nuclear. Nuclear generators destroyed by war or terrorism? Just use wind. The flexibility is what makes electric cars superior, and being able to store energy is what makes intermittent renewables like solar and wind viable when it's not sunny or windy outside.

Most importantly, in a perfect world you'd only have to make the battery once. Some means of recycling dendrite-ridden lithium back into usable material would go an exceptionally long way as well.

We gotta store excess power somewhere, though.


Look into the problems with batteries when e.g. an electric car gets destroyed in a collision. Batteries can re-ignite days later; wrecking yards have to isolate EV wrecks, etc.

Ok, we still need batteries though.

> It's not written in stone. Check out the story of the Loess plateu

Which is why I said "as a whole". You pointed out a single example of when humans did a good thing for the environment, but as a whole (meaning all humans for all of history) we have had a net negative impact on the planet.

Regarding determining the impact, you can't just outright ban something without knowing the impact. Which is why they're doing these trials. It's not wholesale strip-mining the sea floor, it's a test of technology to see if it can be done sustainably and with minimal negative impact to the environment.

edit: formatting


> Which is why I said "as a whole". You pointed out a single example of when humans did a good thing for the environment, but as a whole (meaning all humans for all of history) we have had a net negative impact on the planet.

Fair enough. (I'm usually the one pointing that out in these sorts of discussions. I just want to be clear that we can go the other way and foster life instead of just destroying it.)

> you can't just outright ban something without knowing the impact.

Why not?

I mean, setting aside the argument that we already know that the impact will be bad, let's pretend that the last few centuries of examples haven't given us enough information to make informed predictions about how bad the "impact" will be.

What are the consequences if we just banned marine mining?

- - - -

From my POV, you have to make the case that any mining on Earth at all makes economic sense, given that there is only one living planet in the solar system, and there are lots of things to mine in space (where there are no living things, yet), and we have already heavily "impacted" the existing global ecosystem with our mining and agriculture.

Look, if we're going to get through all this and become a successful space-faring species we have got to start taking the long view, and value things properly.


So you predicate your argument on economic feasibility and then throw up "space mining"?!?! Not sure where to go with that. But look, I do want to get there, but even with all the Elon fanboi-ing in the world, we're not gonna get there in our lifetimes. At least 75-100 years out before it starts to make economic sense given current technology and risk/reward.

So if the company behind the deep-sea mining robot didn't think it was economically feasible, they wouldn't have built it. Obviously it does make economic sense and the best way to determine the ecologic impact is to do trials. And I did mention earlier that government regulation should also be in place. I don't see why this is such a hard thing for people to grasp.


> So you predicate your argument on economic feasibility and then throw up "space mining"?!?!

Absolutely. I'm a long-term thinker.

From the long-term perspective the living Earth is incredibly valuable: the only source of biomass in the known Universe. In contrast, whatever minerals are down there on the sea floor are as common as dirt in our local neighborhood (Sol and its planets and asteroids, etc.)

It just doesn't make any sense to burn up our planet for short-term gains.

What's the rush?

> I do want to get there, but even with all the Elon fanboi-ing in the world, we're not gonna get there in our lifetimes. At least 75-100 years out before it starts to make economic sense given current technology and risk/reward.

Okay, but doesn't that make it even more imperative that we take good care of the Earth, since we can't yet leave?

> Obviously it does make economic sense...

Only in the short-term, and only if the consequences can be ignored by the folks making money from it.

> the best way to determine the ecologic impact is to do trials.

Strong disagree. Both on principle, and on practical grounds. IANAOceanologist, but it seems to me that we know there will be impacts. This is not a scientific expedition, it's a prelude to destruction.

Oklahoma has earthquakes now. Is it due to fracking? We don't actually know in any official or scientific sense. How could we determine that they are a result of fracking or not? The folks doing the fracking insist that it's not them.

We know there are going to be impacts that affect the entire planet. The question is "How bad would the destruction be?" And the answer is "Don't destroy life for money."


Guess we'll have to agree to disagree. ALthough I do agree with "Don't destroy life for money". Cheers, have a great rest of your day!

Well met! Have a great day too.

That's not how safety regulation works, where the burden of proof is on the potential offenders side.

We don't allow random chemicals as food additives and drugs and recall them if they turn out to not be safe. We show that they're save before we allow them on the market.


Exactly! How else do you prove deep sea mining is safe without trials like this?

Ecological surveys. Disturbing a delicate ecosystem by driving a roomba the size of a bulldozer through it is one of those, "that's obviously gonna fuck things up", things where you just need to look at prexisting scientific data.

Much like the question: "is eating half a kilo of table salt a viable cancer treatment?"


> Until we can determine the impact, I don't see why it should be banned outright.

Do you apply this philosophy in your life? If the risk was for you to take on yourself would you think the same way? Or only when the risk is to some far off people, in a far off land, or some future generation?


This makes no sense. We perform trials to gather data, just like any scientist. That's what this is, not strip-mining the sea-floor outright. If the trials proved that this can be done in a responsible way, why not do it? But instead you just want to ban it without gathering any data at all.

We've been mining for quite some time now. Have we ever been able to do it without major negative impact on the environment, at least in the easiest, most practiced of conditions? Mining "in a responsible way" is like "clean coal". It's a euphemism for something that still does a lot of damage but fills some pockets enough to call it whatever they want. The scientists are there just to minimize that damage.

> Things will go wrong (as they have), but this wasn't some sort of catastrophic failure like Deepwater Horizon or something

The thought is to stop this kind of thing before we get another Deepwater Horizon (or Montara or Ixtoc or Bohai Bay or Barataria Bay or so on), not after.


When have environmentalists ever been listened to?

Nuclear power had huge setbacks due to environmental concerns accepted by a majority of the people. Also, the ban on supersonic flights over noise pollution.

I can't wrap my head around environmentalists. If they really understand that anything we do perturbs the environment--and it does--, why are they not openly advocating for evacuating all humans from Earth as soon as possible and creating a full-planet environmental reserve?

It's not like there is not enough matter in the solar system to create our own lush ecosystems...


An Iain Banks Culture Orbital is optimal, yes. But "perturbs" is a weasel word. You can 'perturb' the environment without destroying it, or you can 'perturb' it and leave a desolate wasteland where nothing grows.

I'm hardly an environmentalist, but for a personal example, my home happens to have a well for drinking water, a perturbation of the environment that's perfectly sustainable, we use less water from this well than the watershed on my property restores to the aquifer. This is an acceptable perturbation IMO. That well is contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances from Scotchgard-treated leather scraps. It was too expensive to dispose of them safely, so Wolverine leather buried truckloads of the toxins in a local swamp. This 'perturbed' the environment, turning the place into a Superfund site, making the entire aquifer toxic for decades to come, and should not have been done.

If underwater mining just makes a depression in the seafloor with little other effects, that's probably an OK perturbation. If it releases heavy metals into the water that travel with the currents for miles and miles, killing much of the wildlife, that's an unacceptable perturbation.


Try to remember that today you live in a world shaped by environmentalists: that’s why there are currently some rivers safe to swim in / not on fire, why the air isn’t filled with toxic levels of lead, why it’s ok to go outside without immediate sunburn

We need manganese. We currently get that from open cast mines. Those are pretty terrible, so we need to look at ways of making them not awful, or at alternatives.

Deep sea mining doesn't really do much for either.

Nodules are never going to provide enough to meet demand, so mining nodules doesn't get rid of open cast mining. We don't know what the impact is of mining deep sea nodules, but it's likely to be pretty bad.

If open cast mining had a history of attempting to fix the mines (eg re-wilding) when they'd finished we could trust them a bit more when they want to mine new untouched wilderness. But they mostly don't have that history.

EDIT: for an example of the harm already caused: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02242-y


> Nodules are never going to provide enough to meet demand

My understanding was that this one area is estimated to have more rare metals in these nodules than all land based deposits combined.


> I can't wrap my head around environmentalists. If they really understand that anything we do perturbs the environment--and it does--, why are they not openly advocating for

I think the reason you can't wrap your head around them is because, with possibly a few individual exceptions, 'any human effect on the environment at all' isn't actually what they're opposed to.


Because a "solution" like that is at best several hundred years away and in the meantime we'd like to slow down the current mass extinction event so that the life as we know it on this planet can survive until then.

They think of humans as a plague. It’s a weird form of self-hatred. From a philosophical point of view, I wonder if this stems from the idea of “original sin” in Christianity.



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