Noise pollution from deep-sea mines will stretch for hundreds of miles

Sea cucumber on the seabed. (Photo credit: C Smith, Diva Amon, ABYSSLINE Project)


A study of underwater noise pollution from seabed mining operations found that noise from a single mine could travel about 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) in mild weather conditions, potentially affecting understudied species. that live in the deep sea, the largest habitat on Earth. . There could also be cumulative impacts when multiple mines are operated.

Scientists from the University of Hawaii in Mānoa, Oceans Initiative, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, and Curtin University in Australia, contributed to the study, which was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The findings were published in Science.

The deep sea is home to organisms found nowhere else on Earth – many of which, given the lack of sunlight, likely use sound to navigate, communicate, find mating partners, locate food and to detect predators and other dangers.

deep sea noise graphic
Sources of noise from deep sea mining activities will cover the entire water column.

Seventeen entrepreneurs are exploring the possibility of exploiting the Clarion-Clipperton area (CCZ), an area spanning 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million sq mi) between Hawaii and Mexico and a major focus for deep sea mining. If each of the contractors were to launch just one mine, around 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) – an area larger than the European Union – would have high noise levels. Not only could this level of mining activity have incalculable impacts on noise-sensitive species, but it could also undermine attempts to preserve mining-free areas – called “preservation reference zones” – to be used for scientific comparisons. .

“Our modeling suggests that mining noise could impact areas far beyond the actual mine sites, including preservation reference areas, which must, under the proposed mining regulations, not be affected by mining,” said Craig R. Smithprofessor emeritus of oceanography at uh Mānoa School of Ocean and Land Science and Technology (SOEST), Smith says the discovery “may require rethinking environmental regulations, including the number of mining operations allowed in the CCZ.”

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“What surprised me the most was how easy it would be for the sound of one or two mines to impact nearby areas that have been set aside as experimental controls,” said Rob Williams, co-founder of Oceans Initiative. “With so many unknowns, we need a careful comparison of these preservation reference areas to sites where mining is taking place in order to understand the impacts of mining. But the noise will cross the boundaries between preservation areas and mining sites.

Conservative estimates

Although mining companies are already testing smaller-scale prototypes of deep-sea mining systems, they have yet to share their underwater noise pollution data. The Science The article was to use noise levels from better-studied industrial activities, such as oil and gas industry vessels and coastal dredges, as placeholders. Actual noise levels from deep-sea mining may vary once data becomes available, but, according to Andrew Friedman, project manager of the Pew Seabed Mining Project, they are more likely to be higher. to indirect data than inferior, as the actual seabed mining equipment is much larger and more powerful than the proxies. “These are probably conservative estimates.”

Christine Erbe, a professor at Curtin University, said: “Estimating the noise of future equipment and facilities is a challenge, but we don’t need to wait for the first mines to be operational to find out how much noise they make. . By identifying the noise level in the engineering design phase, we can better prepare for the impact it could have on marine life. »

For more information, see SOESTthe website of.

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