Investigating the influence of lithology and water depth on the composition and distribution of sulphides at the worlds deepest known vent sites.

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology

Abstract

The start of the Age of Metal marked a step-change for mankind. Today, our entire technological society is dependent on metals. But it all started with copper. One of the main sources of this metal in the ancient world was Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus is named after the Greek word for copper. The island's secret was the Troodos ophiolte, an ancient fragment of oceanic crust that was uplifted to form a mountain range. Here, eighty six million years ago, high-temperature hydrothermal vents deposited large mineral ore bodies on the seafloor. Below the seabed, these were rich in copper minerals, deposited by the hot vent fluids as they mixed with cold seawater. Today, modern hydrothermal vents, their ore deposits, and exotic animals are well known as striking examples of geology in action. But we know relatively little about what determines the distribution and composition of the ore deposits. We think that vent fluids become rich in valuable base metals deep beneath mid-ocean ridges, where pressures are 5000 atmospheres and temperatures reach ~500 degrees Celsius. Under these conditions, seawater is supercritical (i.e. the vapour phase behaves like a fluid) and is so reactive that it can easily dissolve rocks. We also think that the composition of those dissolving rocks is important. Different rocks have different metals in them and this affects the composition and value of the ore deposits. But until now, it has been impossible to sample hydrothermal systems under these pressure and temperature conditions. In April 2010, we made the extraordinary discovery of hydrothermal activity in the deepest mid-ocean ridge on Earth. Within the Cayman Trough, deep beneath the Caribbean Sea, we found vents at 5000m gushing out supercritical fluids at nearly 500 degrees Celsius. These are the hottest ever found, and are close to the conditions normally found where seawater meets magma chambers deep below the seafloor. With another expedition already scheduled for 2012, we have a unique opportunity to use this natural laboratory to test predictions about the distribution and composition of ore deposits formed from such high-temperature supercritical fluids. The significance of this work is multi-fold. Economically, we can apply the knowledge gained from this unique study to predict other, more accessible ore deposits on land and at sea. Already, deep-sea extraction companies are starting to explore seafloor ore deposits. The information we gather from this study will help predict the future viability of these deposits. Our new data will also help inform governments and NGOs (e.g. the United Nations International Seabed Authority) of how to protect these sites and ensure that only sustainable exploration is ever planned. Scientifically, we will gain a new understanding of the role of pressure, temperature and rock composition in the formation of ore deposits. We will also revise our estimates of the exchange of heat and fluids between the ocean and seafloor. This exchange helps explain why the sea is salty and the Earth's climate has been in balance. Our exciting work, in such an extreme environment, will continue to engage the public's imagination and help promote science and technology to tomorrow's generation.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have discovered controls on the mineralogy and composition of hydrothermal deposits and systems that are controlled by temperature, pressure and basement lithology. This includes the discovery of a new class of hydrothermal system not hitherto known before.Related spin-off research (Blue Mining) has shown how basalt-hosted seafloor massive sulphides may be preserved and that the deposits extend in depth for hundreds of metres and are 5 times larger than their surface expression.
Exploitation Route Has led directly to a multi-million euro R&D project with industry and academic partners across Europe focused on seafloor mineral resources.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Other

URL http://www.bluemining.eu
 
Description Identified exemplar strategies for seafloor mineral resource exploration, published in industry periodicals for underwater technology, and read worldwide.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description UN IRP invited contribution o deep-sea mineral resources
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Recommendations for informed basis for policy approach to weighing risks/rewards regarding sea-bed mineral resources.
URL https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8729/-UNEPs_environmental,_social_and_economic...
 
Description Blue Mining: Breakthrough Solutions for the Sustainable Exploration and Extraction of Deep Sea Mineral Resources.
Amount € 15,000,000 (EUR)
Funding ID project, n° 604500. 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2014 
End 01/2018
 
Description National Development Plan
Amount € 800,000 (EUR)
Organisation Marine Institute 
Sector Public
Country Ireland
Start 07/2011 
End 08/2011
 
Description National Geographic Society
Amount £120,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NatGeoSoc-2011-NOC-BJM-1 
Organisation National Geographic 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 04/2011 
End 03/2012
 
Description Tectonic Ocean Spreading at the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone (TOSCA)
Amount € 800,000 (EUR)
Organisation Marine Institute 
Sector Public
Country Ireland
Start 05/2018 
End 04/2019
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation 2H Offshore Engineering
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Department Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation RWTH Aachen University
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation University of Lisbon
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description CayMin: Study of water depth and basement influence on composition of hydrothermal mineralisation. 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Direct result: new collaboration resulting in NERC standard grant award focused on mineralisation at the Cayman vents. I led the grant.
Collaborator Contribution Partners contributed by bringing a land-based perspective.
Impact see section for grant: CAymin
Start Year 2012
 
Description Tectonic Oceanic Spreading (TOSCA) 
Organisation University College Dublin
Country Ireland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have collaborated in conceiving the original concept of the proposal and provided interpretation of the initial data.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have acquired Irish research vessel time and access to their Irish research ROV over a 4 week-long cruise for May-June 2018.
Impact Geology and geophysics.No outcomes as yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description Deep-sea Mining Summit key-note seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Setting the UK agenda for engagement in deep-sea minerals research and UK Industrial Stategy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://deepsea-mining-summit.com/
 
Description Key-note presentation to the International Seabed Authority meeting, Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited to speak at an ISA workshop, engaging developing countries in the technological and scientific challenges around deep-sea mineral resources.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.isa.org.jm/
 
Description invited contribution to UNEP International Resources Panel, Brusselles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited key-note presentation to UNEP IRP re: deep-sea mineral resources, risks and rewards.
Influence decisions by EU commissioners who were present in the audience.
Reflected in the latest UN IRP report.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://web.unep.org/resourcepanel/
 
Description lecture series given to University of Sao Paulo students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Series of lectures about deep-sea mineral resources and technology. Knowledge exchange and capacity building with our NEWTON fund partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015