The Metals Company (TMC), a company gearing up for commercial metallic nodule collection from the seabed, said Wednesday that a team of independent scientists from leading research institutions around the world and contractors has started the next phase of an environmental baseline and impact monitoring campaign in preparation for TMC's subsidiary NORI’s ongoing pilot nodule collection system trials in the NORI-D in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean.
Aboard a dedicated 103-meter-long monitoring vessel, scientists recently conducted pre-disturbance monitoring studies on a sub-section of the NORI-D exploration area to establish an environmental baseline before NORI’s offshore strategic partner, Allseas, tests a system consisting of a prototype nodule collector at the seafloor connected to a riser system to bring nodules to the surface production vessel, Hidden Gem, TMC said.
According to TMC, researchers use a range of high-tech equipment, including bespoke tools developed by MIT, Scripps, and Sequoia Scientific, to characterize the behavior of sediment plumes generated by the prototype collector on the seafloor.
Researchers are using three dedicated moorings, current meters with acoustic modems to provide real-time seafloor current data and a large array of other specialized equipment which together, TMC says, represent the most extensive suite of instruments ever deployed for a single program in the deep ocean.
The current campaign requires the coordination of 250 people across three vessels and also marks the initial trials of components of TMC’s Adaptive Management System — being developed in partnership with Kongsberg Digital — which is expected to enable near-real-time 3D visualization in the deep sea and the simulation and analysis of the impacts of NORI’s proposed operations at depths of 4kms.
TMC's Environmental Program Manager, Dr Michael Clarke, said: “Testing of a fully integrated nodule collection system is a landmark event in the progression of our nascent industry. The environmental data we collect from the test will be key to defining and quantifying the key environmental impacts of our nodule collection process, which up to this point have been subject to speculation and conjecture.”
Having established a baseline of the NORI-D collector test area, scientists will proceed to monitor the environmental impacts of deployment and testing of the fully integrated nodule collection system.
They will also carry out post-collection surveys to compare the status of the environment before and after the test. The data collected, together with many terabytes of existing baseline data collected by NORI throughout 16 offshore campaigns, will form the basis of NORI’s application to the International Seabed Authority for an exploitation contract, which the company expects to submit in the second half of 2023.
Last month NORI said that it had received the ISA’s recommendation to start its pilot nodule collection system trials in the CCZ after its review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP).
Trials of prototype nodule collectors have been successfully conducted by several ISA contractors including BGR and GSR in the recent years.
"NORI’s tests will mark the first time an integrated nodule collection system — including nodule riser — has been trialled in the Clarion Clipperton Zone since the 1970s, when oil, gas, mining and industrial majors including Shell, BP, Rio Tinto (Kennecott), US Steel, INCO (Vale) and Sumitomo successfully conducted pilot test work, collecting over 1,500 tons of nodules," TMC said.