Canadian-listed The Metals Company (TMC) aims to be back out on the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean before the end of this year to gather more evidence to build its case with the International Seabed Authority to exploit mineral-bearing seafloor nodules.
TMC says scientists from several marine research institutions are visiting the site of last year’s nodule collection system test, the NORI-D area, to gather data on ecosystem recovery and “functioning” 12 months after the test. This would form part of TMC subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc’s (NORI) Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) characterising potential impacts of proposed polymetallic nodule collection operations.
Management says the work builds on 11 years and more than US$150 million of offshore campaigns aimed at building economic and environmental cases for exploitation. TMC says “rich data” has been generated by 20 campaigns. It wants to submit an application for an exploitation contract to the International Seabed Authority in the second half of next year.
“As we bring together and process the wealth of data that we have gathered over the past 11 years, we’re using the additional time prior to our application submission to increase our knowledge base further,” said TMC environmental manager Dr Michael Clarke.
“Building on observations from last year’s collector test monitoring campaign, the findings of this next campaign will greatly enhance the quality of our application and provide greater understanding for the regulator and stakeholders of how the abyssal ecosystem responds to our operations.
“This data will also be extremely valuable for our engineering teams as they refine the collection system to have a lighter touch.”
Research teams will reportedly use various box-core and multi-core samplers, and benthic lander systems, to assess impacts to biota and ecosystem function on the seafloor at NORI-D.
A remotely operated vehicle will support high-precision placement of sampling equipment in the area directly disturbed by the Allseas-designed pilot collector vehicle, as well as in areas adjacent to, and at various distances from, the site of last year’s integrated collection system trials.
TMC says engineering and science teams will also recover long-term oceanographic moorings and re-deploy two reference moorings from the NORI-D area before commencing long-term oceanographic monitoring in the TOML-F area, adjacent to NORI-D, held by TMC subsidiary Tonga Offshore Mining Ltd (TOML).
The company said more than 300 offshore campaigns have been conducted in international waters since the late 1960s, with over $2 billion invested in environmental baseline and impact studies and technology development.
Most of the capital has been invested by private companies.
In September this year TMC said an alliance with Norway’s Kongsberg Digital would add data streams to a digital twin of NORI-D to train AI models to assess production system outcomes, including environmental impacts of robotic collectors operating on the seafloor.
“The company believes its AI-driven virtual operating environment will enable one of the most transparent natural resource projects in history,” TMC said.
Chief technology officer Andy Jones said the “hybrid machine learning capability” enabled by Kongsberg Digital’s Kognitwin was important to future deep-sea operations and environmental monitoring.
“It provides us with the proven accuracy and reliability of physics-based modelling combined with data-driven models for near real-time predictions and optimisations,” Jones said.
“This AI-driven approach will enable continuous learning and adaptation and enable us to test what-if’ scenarios, allowing NORI to optimise for efficient operations while minimising environmental impacts.”