2022-04-02 Kim Juniper, Univ. of Victoria: The Battle for the Abyss

The Battle for the Abyss:  Mining, conservation, and bioprospecting interests square off on the deep sea

The Lecture

Nearly 60% of the surface of our planet is covered by more than 2000 m of water. The deep seabed is the largest and least explored ecological region on Earth. With no light for photosynthesis, this cold high-pressure environment is a food desert, with most organisms feeding on organic debris that sinks from the surface ocean. Yet, there are an estimated 500,000 or more species in the deep sea, many of which occur nowhere else. The abyss has seen relatively little disturbance from human activities, but that situation is poised to change. Economic growth is driving increasing demand for base metals and rare-earth elements. Known mineral resources on land will soon be insufficient.  Seabed mining is now technologically feasible and regulatory agencies such as the International Seabed Authority are currently finalizing regulations for mineral extraction.  Environmental disturbance from seabed mining operations will be significant, with some mining operations at the scale of 10,000 square kms or more. My presentation will shine some light on the current debate between deep-sea mining interests and the interests of biodiversity conservation and genetic resource biodiscovery. And I will also touch on some of the technologies that are being used for deep-sea exploration.

Manganese nodules, cobalt-rich manganese crusts, and polymetallic sulphides comprise the major mineral deposits that are currently being considered for mining. The romantic view of deep-sea mining that emerged in the mid-20th century must now contend with the realization that each of these deposits host unique faunal and microbial communities that would be severely impacted by mining operations.  Together, we will explore each of these environments and their inhabitants through imagery collected by research submersibles, and learn more about their biodiversity, their contribution to ocean ecosystem function, and their potential for biotechnological and pharmaceutical applications.  We will also introduce some of the players in this “battle for the abyss,” from regulatory agencies to mining companies, deep-sea biologists and Big Pharma.

About the Speaker

Ocean Networks Canada executive leadership team. Portraits of the 7 executive members and group shots.

Kim Juniper is Chief Scientist with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a University of Victoria-basedorganization that operates cabled ocean observatories in the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. He is also Professor in UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and Department of Biology, and holder of the British Columbia Leadership Chair in Ocean Ecosystems and Global Change. He has authored more than 130 peer-reviewed publications on the microbiology, biogeochemistry and ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and low oxygen and other marine habitats. He has contributed scientific leadership and advisory roles to many national and international initiatives including, most recently, the Canadian Healthy Oceans research network (CHONe), the Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO), OceanObs’19 and OceanObs Next, the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES), and the European Marine water Column and Seafloor Observatory (EMSO-ERIC). He served as an occasional advisor to the International Seabed Authority during the development of regulations for the exploration and extraction of seabed mineral resources in areas beyond national jurisdictions. His current research is focusing on bio-prospecting methods for the assessment of the microbial genetic resources associated with seafloor massive sulphide deposits.

This lecture was recorded on Sat. April 2, 2022.

Williams, Tom

Thomas R. Williams, M.S., P.G. has more than 35 years of working and teaching experience and is a retired Engineering Geologist. He has taught earth sciences at eight Bay Area colleges including Sonoma State University, U.C. Berkeley Extension, Dominican University, Santa Rosa Junior College, Diablo Valley College, College of Marin, Napa Valley College, and Mendocino College. Tom has led 34 GeoAdventures (http://geology-adventures.com) since 1997.

For the past five years, Tom has co-lead geology field trips exploring the landscapes and geology of Scotland.  These trips follow in the footsteps of Hutton and other pioneering Scottish geologists and visit localities such as Salisbury Crags, Siccar Point, Isle of Arran, and the Moine thrust, where significant geologic discoveries were made.

In Nov. 2017, Tom reviewed much of the geology of Scotland thru the eyes of “James Hutton—Founder of Modern Geology.” (Updated Oct. 2021)

Duffield, Wendell

Now a pink-cheeked septuagenarian, at a much younger age I earned a BA in geology at Carleton College (1963), MS and PhD degrees in geology at Stanford University (1965, 1967), and then landed a job with the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) to study volcanoes and geothermal energy at home and abroad. My USGS years included a three-year stint as a staff volcanologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory; a north Atlantic sea-floor drilling cruise on the Glomar Challenger (Leg 49); a year working with volcano/geothermal colleagues at the French Geological Survey (BRGM, Orleans); a geothermal summer with the Icelandic Energy Authority in Reykjavik; several volcano/geothermal projects in Central America; field mapping and related studies of volcanic fields in northeastern California, at Coso in southeastern California, and in the Mogollon-Datil volcanic field of southwestern New Mexico. I also participated in USGS responses to the violent eruptions at Mount St. Helens in 1980, El Chichon (Mexico) in 1982, and Mount Pinatubo (Philippines) in 1991.

I retired from the USGS at Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1997, and moved across town to become an Adjunct Professor of Geology at Northern Arizona University. I continue a bit of volcano research, and write essays and books for a broad general readership. My closest professional colleagues at NAU are Nancy Riggs and Michael Ort, two of the worlds most ardent volcano lovers.

In Dec. 2013, Duff told a captivated QGS audience about his “Geologic Adventures at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii.” (Updated Oct. 2021)