Scientists Find Manganese Nodules in Atlantic

The epibenthic sled generally collects biological samples on the seabed. Photo: Thomas Walter

The biology of deep-sea animals and processes of plate tectonics are actually the themes of the first expedition of the new German research vessel SONNE. Marine scientists and oceanographers have now encountered an occurrence of manganese nodules which may dwarf all previously known manganese nodule fields in the Atlantic.

The discovery began with a jolting moment: During this expedition of the research vessel SONNE in the tropical Atlantic, the scientists on board will typically lower a so-called epibenthic sled down to the seabed several thousand meters deep. The approximately three meter long special device collects biological samples and simultaneously captures images. But during an incident earlier this week, the sled seemed to get hooked on the seabed. With a bit of apprehension, the crew and science party waited to see whether the sled would come back on board. Once the sled actually was returned to the working deck of the SONNE, the earlier tension gave way to a big surprise and scientific discovery: The collection nets, generally used to collect near-bottom deep-sea organisms, were filled with manganese nodules. “We did not expect that at this point,” says the chief scientist of the expedition, the geologist Prof. Dr. Colin Devey from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

The ore nodules brought to the surface by the sled are very regular in shape and range in size from golf balls to bowling balls. With growth rates of between one to five millimeters in a million years, some of the modules could be 10 million years old. Photos taken by the epibenthic sled showed that the nodules in the studied area lie closely packed on the floor of the Atlantic. “Manganese nodules are found in all oceans. But the largest deposits are known to occur in the Pacific. Nodules of this size and density in the Atlantic are not known,” says Devey. The biologists on board – whose devices triggered the accidental findings – expressed enthusiasm: “This discovery shows us how little we know of the seabed of the abyssal ocean, and how many exciting discoveries are still waiting for us,” says Prof. Dr. Angelika Brandt the Center for Natural History at the University of Hamburg. “At this station, very few organisms were found in the nets which captured the manganese nodules. It is quite possible that living creatures find the immediate vicinity of the nodules quite inhospitable. The second haul with the epibenthic sled at this station, which sampled over a continuous manganese crust with a thick layer of sediment on top, was quite different. Here the net collected many organisms which we were able to see with the naked eye, and we are already looking forward to the analysis of this sample.”

Manganese nodules are spherical or cauliflower-shaped lumps of ore which are usually at depths below 4000 meters on the large abyssal plains. They consist not only of the eponymous manganese, but also contain iron and other coveted metals such as copper, cobalt or zinc. Therefore, they have been considered a possible source of raw materials since the 1970s. Due to the large water depths and the associated technical complexity and potential environmental damages, no commercial exploitation is currently in sight.

At the same time, manganese nodules are scientifically of great interest since they can be used as climate and environmental archives. Manganese nodules grow like a pearl shell around a nucleus and thus record much information on the prevailing environmental conditions. Since the nodules grow very slowly, they allow – using sophisticated analysis techniques – an environmental reconstruction reaching very far back into Earth’s history.

This year, several cruises of the SONNE are planned to explore the manganese nodule fields in the Pacific, among others, to clarify the role of the manganese nodules on the seafloor ecosystems and which environmental risks would result from a possible exploitation of the nodules.

We will continue our planned program. But the samples obtained here will definitely be examined in detail in our land-based laboratories. We are now excited to see what surprises the Atlantic might still hold for us,” says Professor Devey. The expedition will end in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) on 26th January.

Press Release; Image: Geomar/Thomas Walter

Share this article

Follow Subsea World News


<< May 2017 >>
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 1 2 3 4

OGA 2017

OGA 2017 is the most beneficial way to meet, discuss and acquire the latest in the Oil & Gas industry! It is also;…

read more >


This seminar is designed to assist IMCA members in dealing with these, with a programme of technical and operational topics affecting…

read more >

Offshore Wind Energy 2017

In 2017, EWEA and RenewableUK will join forces to bring you the greatest conference and exhibition Europe has ever known in the history…

read more >

UTC 2017

The subsea industry has, as all other parts of the oil & gas industry, been seriously rattled by the most severe downturn in the hydrocarbon energy era. However, the realization of what hit us and actions to be taken to sustain a healthy and profitable future is still on-going – unfortunately with thousands of colleagues paying the price by losing their job as one of the most severe consequences. At this time, there are signs that we have reached bottom in terms of most industry indicators, but few experts expect a sharp recovery. Many seem to believe that a slow recovery is what the industry needs in order to avoid an unsustainable capacity build-up, as seen in the period after the financial crisis. Considering the uncertainty of what the future will bring, this year’s UTC Program Committee have decided to challenge all of us to present ideas, experiences, technological innovations, business models and execution models for how to shape our subsea future and explain how and why subsea is the future.
UTC welcomes abstracts based on the topics listed below. If selected, please consider writing a paper in addition to the UTC presentation. From 2017, UTC papers will be published in an international database.

More info

read more >