Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Uncomfortable Truth About Deep Sea Mining

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a shift to a world that's no longer powered by fossil fuels likely means we're going to

rely more on batteries and the metals that make them because land-based sources of these metals

can meet the demand of a battery-powered world private companies have turned their attention to

the ocean floor but mining the murky depths may come with a greater cost to the planet

than it's worth terrestrial mining doesn't have a perfect record it comes with a long list of

environmental and human rights abuses including pollution and child labor all this to dig up

raw materials like nickel manganese and cobalt that are necessary for our lithium-ion batteries

some strategies for a carbon-free future depend on making these batteries in much larger numbers and

using them as a power source for electric cars or a storage method for electricity generated

by renewables but another source of these materials could lie at the bottom of the ocean

potato sized lumps called polymetallic nodules are rich in manganese copper cobalt nickel and other

precious metals and they're found in abundance in some areas like the clarion clipperton zone

that stretches from hawaii to mexico in this one area alone known as the ccz nodules contain more

nickel and cobalt than in all known land-based sources combined there are a few reasons why

we haven't scooped up those tempting little sea nuggets one of them is technological between us

and them there is a literal ocean and getting to them is not a matter of just distance but pressure

too the deep sea is usually defined as the water 200 meters below the surface and beyond every 10

meters under water adds another atmosphere worth of pressure and these nodules are often found

below 3000 meters that means the machines that harvest them would have to withstand more than

300 times more pressure than you or i feel walking around on the surface the expense

and engineering that would go into a sea floor harvesting operation has long deterred anything

beyond small scale exploration but after decades of testing the technology to mine the ocean floor

looks like it's maturing and ready for large scale use for example one company nautilus minerals has

developed this trio of machines two of them are for crushing up ore before the third collects it

mixes it with seawater and sends it to a pump that lifts the slurry to vessels on the surface

the other thing standing in the way of deep sea mining is a lack of a legal framework nodule-rich

areas like the ccz are in international waters a united nations chartered organization called

the international seabed authority or isa has been working with 167 member states and the

european union to hammer out the rules and best practices for deep sea mining they could agree

on terms by 2021. in the past decade though the isa has issued almost 30 exploratory licenses

but once the rules are finalized operations could ramp up to an industrial scale as companies gear

up to mine the ocean many scientists that study the ocean depths warn that mining could be

environmentally devastating just how devastating we don't really know yet because of that intense

pressure at the sea floor it's the most poorly understood ecosystem on earth scientists didn't

even think it could support much life beyond a few scavengers until 1977 when the first ecosystem

around a hydrothermal vent was discovered almost two and a half kilometers down even

today marine biologists think we've only found a tiny fraction of the life that lives in the deep

mining could wipe out organisms before we've had the chance to discover them like microbes

that have possible uses in medicine many microbes actually live on poly metallic nodules which can

take over 10 million years to form so once they're extracted that habitat isn't coming back the waste

slurry that's dumped back into the ocean once or is extracted could also be a hazard if it's dumped

high up in the water column it could possibly drift for hundreds of kilometers and disrupt

ecosystems far removed from the mining site and the site itself could be scarred for years

in 1989 scientists simulated a mining operation by dragging plows across the sea floor and nearly

three decades later the tracks are still there and the microbe and animal populations haven't fully

recovered some of those bacteria absorb carbon from the environment so mining operations could

set back some of the efforts to go green it's an uncomfortable dilemma mining on land has a

lot of known negatives but the impacts of deep sea mining are unknown and potentially huge a future

where carbon emissions are under control could depend on having enough of these resources but

who knows what irreversible harm we could do getting them fortunately we're getting better

at recycling these metals and other energy storage solutions do exist besides lithium-ion batteries

maybe a healthy sustainable energy future is within our reach but it's going to require

informed people making decisions and caring about what happens to a part of the planet that most of

us will never see poly metallic nodules form as dissolved metals build up on organic materials

and they often form around ancient shark teeth if you want an idea of just how much remains

undiscovered in the ocean check out marin's video on 200 000 new viruses scientists didn't

know existed here thanks for watching be sure to subscribe and i'll see you next time on seeker

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