Oops, This Dredging Company Lost Its Deep Sea Mining Robot

Global Sea Mineral Resources' Patina II separated from a lifting point this week, 13,000 feet below the ocean.
​The Pacific Ocean. Getty Images
The Pacific Ocean. Getty Images 

A 25-ton mining robot prototype broke free of its tethers this week and is just hanging out at 13,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean. 

Patina II was roaming the Clarion Clipperton Zone, a 1.7 million square mile section of the ocean from Hawaii to Mexico, and an area of interest to mining companies looking to extract mineral resources. In March, Patania II’s was postponed to address damage to its umbilical cable, which powers the robot and connects it to the boat. The mining robot would collect polymetallic nodules—potato-sized deposits containing precious ores such as manganese, copper, and nickel.

According to Reuters, the deep-sea exploratory division of dredging company DEME Group, called Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR), has been testing the Patina II robot since April 20.

The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are largely unknown, and environmental safety advocates, such as Greenpeace, are against mining until the impact on the underwater ecosystem is better understood. Google, BMW, Volvo, and Samsung have backed efforts to place a moratorium on mining plans. A 2015 Motherboard article explained some of the potentially horrifying environmental ramifications of mining a sea floor that scientists have still barely studied. Samples from the GSR expedition are to be analyzed by scientists to study its impacts. 

“I generally don’t think it’s possible for us to objectively assess all the risks involved right now,” Jeff Drazen, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told Scientific American. “This is the poorest-described ecosystem on the planet.”