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Sea bed minerals

2023 JUL 12

Mains   > Geography   >   Resource geography   >   Resource geography


  • The International Seabed Authority plans to resume negotiations for deep sea mining, raising concerns about potential environmental impact on marine ecosystems and habitats.



  • Deep sea mining is an emerging industry that aims to extract minerals from the ocean's surface, including manganese nodules, sulfides and cobalt crusts:
    • Poly-Metallic Sulphides (PMS) are precipitates of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from deep interior of the oceanic crust, discharged through mineralized chimneys.
    • Polymetallic manganese nodules (PMN) are small potato-sized lumps of material precipitated from seawater and sediment pores at slow rates. They contain approximately 24% manganese, 14% iron and some traces of copper.
    • Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts occur in areas of significant volcanic activity. The crusts grow on hard-rock substrates of volcanic origin by the precipitation of metals dissolved in seawater.
  • These minerals are of interest for their potential economic value and their use in various industries, including technology, manufacturing, and energy production.
  • On a longer run, there will be interest in the potential extraction rare earth elements (REEs) in deep-sea muds and gas hydrates in the ocean floor. Gas hydrates are a crystalline solid formed of water and gas. It looks and acts much like ice, but it contains huge amounts of methane.



  • India had signed a 15-year contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in 2016 for exploration of Poly-Metallic Sulphides (PMS) in the Indian Ocean. Based on this, India has ear-marked nearly 1.5 lakh square kilometres of area in the central Indian Ocean for exploration.

Deep Ocean Mission:

  • With a view to explore deep ocean for resources and develop deep sea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources, the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES)developed the “Deep Ocean Mission” in 2021.
  • The mission has an estimated cost of Rs. 4077 crores for a period of 5 years to be implemented in a phase-wise manner.
  • The Deep Ocean Mission consists of six major components:
    • Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining and Manned Submersible:
      • A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6000 metres with a suite of scientific sensors and tools.
      • An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining Polymetallic Nodules from 6000 m depth in the central Indian Ocean.
    • Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services:
      • A suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables.
    • Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity:
      • Bio-prospecting of deep-sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilization of deep-sea bio-resources will be the main focus.
    • Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration:
      • Explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges.
    • Energy and freshwater from the Ocean:
      • Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant are envisaged.
    • Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology:
      • Development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering, to translate research into industrial application and product development.
  • The mission will bring together experts from the Indian Space Research Organisation, Defence Development and Research Organisation, Department of Atomic Energy, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Navy.


  • Enhance mineral security:  
    • It is estimated that 380 million metric tonnes of polymetallic nodules are available at the bottom of the sea in the Central Indian Ocean. Utilizing these deposits can help supplement the depleting land-based mineral reserves of India for the next few decades.
  • Front runner in deep sea mining:
    • At present, the technologies required for deep-sea exploration and mining are not commercially available. By developing extraction technology and capability, India can become a pioneer in mineral extraction in the future.
  • Impetus for Indian industries:
    • Design, development and fabrication of specialised equipment, ships and setting up of required infrastructure are expected to spur the growth of the Indian industry, especially the MSME and Start-ups.
  • Sustainable development:
    • Sustainable resource extraction from land-based sources is proving to be a major challenge. Also, SDG 14 explicitly calls for sustainable use of marine resources. In this regard, the deep-sea minerals offers a potentially sustainable source. 
  • Push for blue economy:
    • India has a 7517 km long coastline, which is home to around 30% of the population. India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) spreads over 2.2 million square kilometres.
    • Having strong mining capabilities will give boost to the efforts of exploring the EEZ as well as the continental shelf and thus help in leveraging the idea of blue economy for the country’s overall economic growth.
  • Strategic advantage:
    • Exploring the seabed is strategically significant as it will enhance India’s presence in the Indian Ocean where other players like China are seeking to gain upper hand.


  • Absence of international legislations:
    • Sustainable extraction and equitable sharing of resources obtained from global commons require effective international legislation, which is currently lacking. Hence, commercial utilization of deep sea resources is currently questionable.
    • The global commons include those parts of the Earth's surface beyond national jurisdictions — notably the outer space, Antarctic, open ocean and the living resources found there.
  • Economic viability of mining:
    • The latest estimate from the International Seabed Authority says it will be commercially viable only if about three million tonnes are mined per year. But to attain such levels, more studies are being carried out and technology needs to be scaled up rapidly.
  • Disturbance of seafloor:
    • Geologically, the impacts of deep-sea mining are yet to be conclusively analysed. Some forms of deep-sea mining will stir up fine sediments on the seafloor, creating plumes of suspended particles. It is unclear how far these particles may disperse, how long it would take for them to resettle, and to what extent they may affect ecosystems and species.
  • Effect on ecology:
    • Only a small portion of the deep seabed has been explored, leading conservationists to worry about potential damage to ecosystems.
      • The physical disturbance resulting from mining activities can lead to habitat loss and a decline in biodiversity, potentially affecting the entire food chain within these ecosystems.
      • Sediment plumes generated by certain mining processes are a major concern. Once valuable materials are extracted, slurry sediment plumes may be pumped back into the sea, which can harm filter-feeding species like sponges.
  • Pollution:
    • Mining activities, equipments and surface vessels can create noise, vibrations and light pollution.
    • Deep-sea mining operations can also release harmful chemicals and heavy metals into the surrounding water, with long-lasting effects on marine life.


The unsustainable terrestrial resource exploitation has led to a shortage of land resources. This has forced us to venture into uncharted territories deep within the ocean to meet our future resource demands. The exploration studies of minerals will pave way for the commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, an UN organization. Though a pioneer in this field, India should take care to see that the resources are extracted and used in a sustainable manner with minimum impacts on the deep-sea environment.


Q. Analyse the significance and challenges associated with mining of deep sea minerals.