Environmental Impacts and Risks of Deep-Sea Mining

Aug 2018 -  Feb 2022


This MiningImpact phase will follow up on the results of the JPI Oceans pilot action on "Ecological Aspects of Deep-Sea Mining" which terminated in late December 2017 (see results here). While the initial MiningImpact phase investigated experimental and rather small-scale disturbances of the seafloor over decadal timescales, the second part will independently study and comprehensively monitor in real time the environmental impact of an industrial trial to mine manganese nodules on the seafloor which will be conducted simultaneously and independently by the Belgian contractor DEME-GSR in the Belgian an German licence area in the Clarion-Clipperton-Zone. 

The project will further study regional connectivity of species in the deep-sea and their resilience to impacts, and the integrated effects on ecosystem functions, such as the benthic food-web and biogeochemical processes.

In this context, key objectives of the project are:

  • To develop and test monitoring concepts and strategies for deep-sea mining operations

  • To develop standardization procedures for monitoring and definitions for indicators of a good environmental status

  • To investigate potential mitigation measures, such as spatial management plans of mining operations and means to facilitate ecosystem recovery

  • To develop sound methodologies to assess the environmental risks and estimate benefits, costs and risks

  • To explore how uncertainties in the knowledge of impacts can be implemented into appropriate regulatory frameworks

The Miningimpact 2018-2022 project is conducted independently of DEME-GSR activities. DEME-GSR is responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions for its operations and does not receive any funding from the MiningImpact project.

The respective environmental impacts assessments by BGR and DEME-GSR are online on the International Seabed Authority's website:








Ecological Aspects of Deep-Sea Mining


Activities of deep-sea mining will indisputably affect the status of the environment by disturbing the seafloor and the overlying water column. The habitats of unique benthic and pelagic communities may be affected depending on the technologies used as well as on the size of the area impacted directly by mining and indirectly by the dispersion of sediment plumes and mining debris.
The JPI Oceans Pilot Action "Ecological Aspects of Deep-Sea Mining" assesses the ecological impacts which could arise from commercial mining activities in the deep-sea. Core of the project are three expeditions visiting several nodule license areas and a protected area in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) as well as the disturbance and recolonization experiment (DISCOL) in the Peru Basin, which was conducted 26 years ago.


During the last decades, the interest in exploring marine mineral deposits for their potential as commercial mining sites has fluctuated mainly due to market prices of metals. The main marine mineral deposits encountered in the deep-sea are cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts on seamounts, massive sulfides at hydrothermal vents and manganese (or polymetallic) nodules in the abyssal plains. Commercially important manganese nodule fields are located in the Central Pacific and Indian Oceans. To date, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted 12 licenses for the exploration of manganese nodule fields in the area between the Clarion and the Clipperton Fracture zones (CCZ) in the northeast Pacific and 1 license in the Indian Ocean. Several European countries, e.g. Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, currently hold exploration license areas in the CCZ. Three further applications for nodule exploration in the CCZ, including a second application from the UK, have been submitted to the ISA in 2013.

The Aim of the Project

The project aims to assess the recovery of the DISCOL experimental area in terms of  the ecosystem status, and the biogeochemical situation of the area by comparing disturbed with adjacent undisturbed sites. Furthermore, the consortium will test a range of modern assessment methods and monitoring techniques for defining the ecosystem status and for improving the understanding of the spatial scales and natural dynamics of abyssal environments before and after anthropogenic disturbances. The methods are tested in two contrasting environmental and nodule-type regions (CCZ and Peru Basin). Therefore, the project aims to prove a robust investigation strategy for different baseline conditions in nodule areas. At the same time, the project intends to demonstrate that selected technologies are universally applicable for the monitoring of impacts that may be expected in different nodule areas. The working groups will focus on: 
  • modern mapping technologies
  • the investigation of the biodiversity and community structure of benthic microbial and metazoan communities at disturbed and undisturbed sites in the DISCOL area as well as in several areas of the CCZ
  • the employment of state-of-the-art TV-guided, targeted sampling and in situ measurement techniques
  • the impact resulting from the release and dispersion of the sediment plume in the water column created by mining activities using modern high-quality and highresolution spatial and temporal hydrographic and sedimentological data as well as highresolution bathymetric data
  • the dissemination of the project results to policymakers, stakeholders, and contractors holding exploration licenses. Furthermore, discussion will be initiated with industry interested in deep-sea mining to develop low-impact mining gear.


Key Facts

National Funding through JPI Oceans

Partners: 32

Start Date: 08-2018

End Date: 02-2022

Cruise: SO268 (Feb – May 2019)



MiningImpact Proposal:

BGR - Environmental Impact Assessment:

DEME-GSR - Environmental Impact Assessment:


Key Facts

National Funding Through JPI Oceans

Partners: 25 Partners

Duration: Jan 2015 - Dec 2017

Cruises: SO239, SO242-1, SO242-2