Friday, February 6, 2009

327. Learning About

Dr. James R. Hein will give a talk at PIC this Sunday, according to the Saipan Tribune.

Photo from USGS.

He's coming at the invitation of our Governor and will talk about ocean mining, so I was skeptical. However, he has an impressive resume.

He's also given similar talks in other venues, to positive reviews.

(I also like that his bio photo has him wearing a plain white tee shirt.)

This seems like a good chance to hear some real science and learn about more about our ocean.


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Should be very interesting.

Saipan Writer said...

Did you see the video of the presentation? (Similar topic, so I'm guessing that's similar to what we'll be getting.)

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

There is no such thing as Internet video in Pohnpei.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I've thought a lot about the presentation. I've come to the conclusion that he's made a very large leap in logic concerning the environmental footprint of underwater mining.

He takes these givens:

1. Ore on land has a lower percentage of desired minerals
2. Ore on the seabed has a higher percentage of desired minerals
3. Mining on land requires the removal of rock
4. Minerals on the seabed are right at the surface and no rock has to be removed

And comes to the conclusion that

1. Seabed mining will be less intrusive because you don't have to remove rock and you need less ore to get the same amount of desired minerals.

The problem I have with this line of thinking is that it assumes that the technology for extracting minerals on land and on the seabed are relatively similar in their environmental footprint.

Seeing as the technology to extract minerals has yet to be invented, this is a very large leap in logic. Remember, the first generation of any technology tends to be the least efficient and the most polluting. We can probably assume that undersea mining will follow suit.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I also found it interesting that he claimed the mines would be tiny in scale and that one mine would be mined for between 15-30 years. He also used the number 5 to say that the CNMI and the market wouldn't be able to handle any more than 5 mines.

He also said that he hasn't found any minerals in the CNMI, but that his best scientific guess is that they are there.

Saipan Writer said...

I've been thinking about all that he said, too.

I'm not in a position to criticize his science, or even his assumptions about carbon footprints, etc.

Here's what I heard and what my concerns are:

1. 3 kinds of resources when you're talking about undersea mining--manganese nodules (that sit on the surface), "pavement" which is attached to rock and contains things like platinum, and "dead" hydrothermal vent minerals like copper and gold.

2. The first-manganese nodules are NOT found in the Marianas.

3. The second-"pavement" are not found in the current EEZ, but are found to the SE of the Trench, so if the US signs off on the Law of the Sea Convention and then files a claim to expand our EEZ to include that area and the LoSC commission grants it, we would have "pavement." But there is no current technology for removing "pavement" from bedrock surface, so considering mining this for now is just an exercise in speculation.

4. The "dead hydrothermal vents" minerals--there is 1 place in the CNMI where we may have these--the Rota west site. Mr. Hein was very certain that the dead vent exists, but despite several attempts to locate it, he hasn't yet found it. It's there, but... And once it's found, there is the possibility of mining it.

5. The current state of underwater mining-it's a new venture. Papua New Guinea is the first place with a contract in place for underwater mining. The contract is in place, the technical process is still being worked out.

6. Mr. Hein said that underwater mining would be a huge environmental improvement, that the carbon footprinting for it would be far less than above-the ground. Certainly, the carbon-footprint of above-the-ground mining is huge. And there are other environmental concerns. But I'm having trouble understanding how we can know that the carbon footprint for underwater mining will be less when the technological processes aren't in place yet.

7. Also of great concern to me was the casual attitude toward ripping up the "pavement." Mr. Hein said that first there would have to be technology that could separate it from bedrock without damage to the bedrock--that's fine. But he also said the pavement itself acts like a sponge, filtering out minerals from the water and building up its pavement layers. He said this takes millenia. My concern is that taking any of this will interrupt an important on-going process and possibly cause damage. (Similar to ripping out coral.) Mr. Hein's faith that only a small amount of "pavement" would be taken because of above-ground markets, etc. seemed to belie the past-where humans have never stopped until they reached the bottom of the well/the end of the motherlode, etc.

Well, that's all I'm capable of thinking of for now.