Søndag 5.12.2021 - Uke 48

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The oceans hold large mineral and metal resources, but the deposits are microscopic compared to the ocean's vast area. New exploration technology and methods are key.


1000 U 18Photo: DSMF

- The world's oceans hold large amounts of metals, but only a small portion of it will ever be extractable. Exploration for the mineral deposits will present several challenges, said John Parianos, Manager Exploration at Deep Sea Mining Finance. 

Parianos was one of the speakers during the seminar Marine Minerals which was organized by GCE Ocean Technology and the Norwegian Forum for Marine Minerals (NMM) earlier this year.

As the grades in the world's mines on land decrease, more and more countries and companies turn their eyes to the deep sea. This applies not least in Norway, where the government has been a strong driving force for both mapping the Norwegian continental shelf (via the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate) and by starting an impact assessment program for mineral activities that can facilitate an opening process. 

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Norskehavet områderThe opening process for mineral activities on the Norwegian shelf includes areas between Jan Mayen and Svalbard, as well as southeast of Jan Mayen. Sulphides and manganese crusts occur on the Norwegian shelf. Map by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate

5 billion tonnes of copper

Parianos pointed out that estimates show that the world's oceans can hold as much as 100 billion tonnes of copper in the oceanic crust. However, most will not be available, and it is estimated that around 5 billion tonnes may be recoverable. 

In comparison, it is estimated that there are 2-3 billion tonnes of copper left in deposits on land, and 24 million tonnes are extracted annually (2019). That should be more than enough for many, many years of production. 

During the conference NCS Exploration - Deep Sea Minerals October 20 and 21, John Parianos will give the presentation Mineral Inventory Estimation in the Context of SMS Exploration.

 

He is also a co-presenter for the presentation Key Challenges, and Some Potential Solutions in SMS Exploration

 

PROGRAM AND REGISTRATION

- But the green shift and further development in prosperity could contribute to a doubling of the demand for copper by 2026. In addition, the grades are declining at the same time as the environmental footprints from mining are increasing. 

How much resources do we have on the Norwegian shelf? Geo365.no: Kvantifisering av det ukjente

Two challenges

However, finding deep-sea resources is not an easy task. One reason is that the sea is large, while the deposits are relatively small. 

Prospective areas in the deep seas, whether it is the mid-ocean ridges west of Norway and Svalbard or the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean west of the United States, can stretch over thousands of kilometers.  

John Parianos showed how DSMF's sulphide deposit Solwara 1 in Papua New Guinea is comparable to the area of ​​a large shopping center. 

- Another challenge is that not all deposits are placed neatly on the seabed. They have a vertical distribution, and while some of the deposits can be reached, others will lie too deep. 

Parianos maintains that the solution for an exploration company will be to search broadly.

- A company that aims to find deep-sea resources should ensure that it has a portfolio with hundreds of potential goals. Sampling, modeling, geophysical measurements and drilling will then limit this to a dozen prospects which in turn can lead to a few actual recoverable deposits through further drilling, Parianos explained. 

Drilling of wells is definitely the best method for defining resources and refining the discovery of a deposit. But this presupposes that you already have a prospect in front of you - a well will, of course, only say something about the geology in the immediate vicinity of where it is being drilled. 

In order to map geological and resource potential over larger areas, it is therefore first necessary to use other exploration methods such as geological modeling, interpretation of structural geology and geophysical and bathymetric measurements to name a few.

Jumping spider og hobbitDSMF is developing new technology for the deep sea. The photo shows a jumping spider (left) and a hobbit scout drill (right). Photo: DSMF

Jumping spider, a hobbit and a neutron cannon

In conclusion, Parianos demonstrated new deep-sea exploration technologies developed by the company itself, including a "jumping spider" - a self-propelled robot that can collect samples from the seabed. 

- With a cost of only a few thousand dollars, a company can release several of these at the same time, and let them "jump" from place to place and collect sediment samples. 

According to Parianos, these robots can collect up to 40 samples per day. 

Another technological innovation is a compact well drill (hobbit scout drill) which is able to land quickly on the seabed and stable enough to be able to operate even on steep surface (up to 30 degrees inclination). 

The third technology presented by John Parianos was a geochemical measuring instrument that can provide information about the geochemistry under the seabed. The unique feature is that it shoots neutrons into a borehole and captures the resulting radiation in a detector. The technology gives an insight into the geochemistry under the seabed even without core samples. 

Deep Sea Mining Finance aims to be the first company to extract sulphides commercially on the seabed. Solwara 1 is the first and only commercial deep-sea deposit in the world with an environmental and production license. 

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has stated that sulphide deposits have been identified on the Norwegian shelf along the Norwegian part of the Mid-Atlantic Spreading Ridge (MASR). They are formed by present and past volcanic activity related to the seabed dispersal. Deposits available for extraction can be found within a belt along the spreading ridge where they have not had time to be buried too deeply by sediments.

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