The Deep Sea – a Resource for Humankind ?

Brochure on massive sulfides - raw materials from the deep sea

The ocean is already an important resource for mineral commodities. Sand and gravel as well as the energy resources oil and gas are being mined from the seafloor for decades. Minerals such as diamond and gold but also tin- or titanium-bearing minerals are being mined from shallow coastal areas worldwide where they have been accumulating during erosion of the continental areas. Mining from the seafloor is therefore nothing new, however, new minerals and ores might become targets for future mining in the deep sea (> 1000 meter water depth). 

These "new" resources include the well-known manganese nodules formed in the deep sea (commonly in water depths below 4000 meter), cobalt-rich crusts that form on the slopes of old submarine volcanoes (between 800 and 2500 meter) and the "massive sulfides" formed at plate boundaries where new oceanic crust is formed or where volcanic activity is present elsewhere in the submarine environment. These deposits form in water depths ranging from 500 to 5000 meter. These three resources are often described as renewable resources, however, they grow very slowly. Formation of cm-thick manganese nodules and crusts takes several millions of years and even the "fast" growing black smoker deposits need thousands of years to grow to economically interesting deposits. 

Within the research unit "Magmatic and Hydrothermal Systems" we investigate the geological setting of marine mineral resources, the processes responsible for their formation and the enrichments and depletions of metals in the ores. We use various sampling tools such as TV-guided grab systems, submersibles, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs; for instance ROV Kiel6000) and autonomous underwater vehilces such as the AUV "ABYSS". Together with the research unit "Marine Geodynamics" we develop tools for the exploration and prospecting of marine mineral resources.


More information on hydrothermal vents and associated massive sulfide deposits can be found here.