UK Seabed Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin UK, in partnership with the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, holds licences and contracts to explore a total of 133,000km2 of the Pacific sea floor for mineral-rich polymetallic nodules.
These tennis ball-sized nodules, found approximately four kilometres beneath the ocean’s surface, can provide millions of tonnes of copper, nickel, cobalt manganese and rare earth minerals that are used in the construction, aerospace, alternative energy, and communications industries, among others.
Collecting polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor, given the depth at which they are found and the technological challenges of working several kilometres beneath the ocean’s surface, has previously been uneconomic. Today, technologies specifically developed for working in space and for autonomous underwater vehicles for the offshore oil industry have changed this dynamic.
Seabed harvesting is an ecologically sound method for meeting the growing global demand for precious metals, as well as supporting economic growth. UK Seabed Resources is working closely with UK government departments and research institutions on environmental, regulatory and industrial elements of the project.
Since securing exploration licences in 2013 and 2016, UK Seabed Resources has worked with a team of world-leading scientists to build knowledge and understanding of the abyssal environment. Three research cruises have been undertaken in the Pacific Ocean Clarion-Clipperton Zone, with the latest in February 2020. The cruises have involved:
- 84 days of exploration with world-leading scientists
- Surveying more than 66,000 sq kms of abyssal terrain (at a depth of 4km below the ocean surface)
- Mapping, in high resolution, using submersible AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), in excess of 235 sq kms of seabed
These environmental surveys have generated over 57,000 images of the seafloor and collected in excess of 27,000 biological samples.
To date over 70 peer-reviewed academic papers and conference presentations have been produced on the basis of data gathered during the initial two cruises. The samples collected on the third cruise are now in research labs for analysis and future reporting of findings.
Alongside its environmental research programme, UK Seabed Resources continues to refine its knowledge of the resource available in its two licence areas, progress its technology roadmap, and deliver its training plan.
UK Seabed Resources is sponsoring two PhD students from developing nations at Plymouth University’s Marine Institute who are using data collected by UK Seabed Resources to further scientific understanding of the Clarion Clipperton Zone.
UK Seabed Resources also continues to participate actively in the work of the International Seabed Authority to develop the “Mining Code” for commercial polymetallic nodule harvesting.