Hydrothermal vents on the seafloor support a rich diversity of life, and they contain deposits of valuable metals used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. A new research paper looks at what is known about the vital microscopic life in these locations to evaluate the possible impacts of mining these and other deep-sea locations. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Microbes’ risk from deep-sea mining greatly varies

A new paper, published in Limnology and Oceanography, shows that microbes in deep-sea ecosystems may suffer from varying risks due to mining the sea floor.

Four types of deep-sea mineral resources have been analysed in the study, which include metal-rich rocks that are found around underwater mountains or lying on the seafloor. The findings of the paper, titled, Impacts of deep-sea mining on microbial ecosystem services, indicate that the probable impacts of mining vary significantly from creating a minimal disturbance to irreversible loss of significant ecosystem processes.

Beth Orcutt, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA, a non-profit research institute, and the lead author of the study said, “The push for deep-sea mining has really accelerated in the last few years, and it is crucial that policy makers and the industry understand these microbes and the services they provide.”

Though guidelines already exist for licensed exploration, and the site assessments carried out should include how much microbial life is present, the new study emphasises that determining what roles the microbes in those ecosystems are playing and how they would be impacted by mining is equally important.

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