A Norwegian study has found a “substantial” amount of metals and minerals ranging from copper to rare earths on the seabed of its extended continental shelf, authorities said on Friday in their first official estimates.
These resources are in high demand for the role they play in the transition to a greener economy.
The Nordic country, a major oil and gas exporter, is considering whether to open its offshore areas to deep-sea mining, a process that requires parliament’s approval and has sparked environmental concerns.
“Of the metals found on the seabed in the study area, magnesium, niobium, cobalt and rare earth minerals are found on the European Commission’s list of critical minerals,” the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD), which conducted the study, said in a statement.
The resources estimate, covering remote areas in the Norwegian Sea and Greenland Sea, showed there were 38 million tonnes of copper, almost twice the volume mined globally each year, and 45 million tonnes of zinc accumulated in polymetallic sulphides.
The sulphides, or “black smokers,” are found along the mid-ocean ridge, where magma from the Earth’s mantle reaches the sea floor, at depths of around 3,000 meters (9,842 feet).
About 24 million tonnes of magnesium and 3.1 million tonnes of cobalt are estimated to be in manganese crusts grown on bedrock over millions of years, as well as 1.7 million tonnes of cerium, a rare earth element used in alloys.
The manganese crusts are also estimated to contain other rare earth metals, such as neodymium, yttrium and dysprosium.
“Costly, rare minerals such as neodymium and dysprosium are extremely important for magnets in wind turbines and the engines in electric vehicles,” the NPD said.
Environmental groups have called on Norway to postpone its seabed mineral exploration until more studies are conducted to understand the organisms living on the seabed and the impact of mining on them.
There is “a great lack of knowledge” of deep oceans, where new and undiscovered species are potentially to be found, Norway’s Institute of Marine Research said in a consultation letter.
The International Seabed Authority, the UN-affiliated body that oversees the deep-sea mining sector, is expected to announce regulations for the nascent industry in July. Many scientists have warned that mining the deep sea could have huge and irreversible implications for the fragile ecosystem.
The NPD said its estimates showed resources “in place,” and further studies were needed to establish how much of those could be recovered with acceptable environmental impact.
The Norwegian find follows the announcement in January by Swedish mining company LKAB that it had found Europe’s largest deposit of rare earth oxides in the country’s far north. The market for rare earths is dominated by China, none are currently mined in Europe leaving it dependent on imports.
“This is good news, not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people, but also for Europe and the climate,” said Jan Moström, president and group CEO of LKAB, said in a statement.