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Sophie Anna Luise Paul

Institution:Jacobs University Bremen
Phone:+49 421 200 - 3228
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Sophie Paul

PhD project:

Environmental impacts of deep-sea mining – biogeochemical processes on the seafloor and the development of monitoring standards for effective policy making

The increasing demand for metals leads to the exploration of more and more frontiers. The deep-sea is one of those frontiers and there are intentions to start mining in the deep-sea due to an abundance of mineral resources, for example polymetallic nodules containing economically valuable nickel, copper and cobalt. The effects such large scale mining impacts would have are not yet fully assessable and there is the need for further research. Therefore, I want to look at the environmental impacts potential mining activities could have on the seafloor biogeochemistry and how standards could be developed to safeguard the deep-sea ecosystem.

A miner can be expected to disturb the sediment, which in turn could set free heavy metals to the overlying water column. Hence, I will study the distribution of a range of trace metals including REY in the oxic and suboxic pore waters, sediments and the overlying water to understand under which conditions the metals could be released. Samples will be taken in two distinct polymetallic nodule areas in the eastern Pacific (Clarion Clipperton Zone and Peru Basin) on RV Sonne cruises in 2015. Previous research has shown that the geochemistry of both areas is rather different, with the Clarion Clipperton Zone for example having a deep oxic zone, whereas the Peru Basin only has a few centimeter thick oxic zone. Consequently, disturbances would have very different impacts on metal cycling depending on the locality and the comparison of both sites will provide a comprehensive picture. Additionally, a small area in the Peru Basin has been disturbed in an experiment in 1989 and revisiting the disturbed site 26 years after the initial disturbance offers the unique opportunity to compare disturbed to undisturbed sites. The analysis of biogeochemical processes on the seafloor in the Peru Basin can also help to illuminate the recovery of sediment processes over a time scale of a quarter century.

After analyzing the geochemistry, there will be an application of the data in order to look at the bigger picture. Since it seems that deep-sea mining will commence at some point in the future, it is important to shape it in the least environmentally damaging way possible. Parameters and threshold levels are needed to implement environmental monitoring. The insights won from geochemical analyses will be used to offer suggestions on key parameters working as indicators for the system.

Thesis committee:

Prof. Dr. Andrea KoschinskyJacobs University Bremen
Prof. Dr. Michael BauJacobs University Bremen
Prof. Dr. Karen Smith StegenJacobs University Bremen
Dr. Sabine KastenAlfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Bremerhaven
Dr. Thomas KuhnFederal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Hannover, Germany