A controversial form of mining by extracting minerals from the seabed could have “long lasting and irreversible” impacts, including on globally endangered species such as blue whales, scientists have warned by scientists.
A peer-reviewed paper said the loud, constant noises from the machinery could disrupt the unique frequencies used by whales, dolphins and porpoises to communicate and navigate the ocean.
According to the scientists from the University of Exeter and Greenpeace Research Laboratories, there is a risk that if these sounds are separated from each other, the feeding of the whales will be disturbed and they will be forced to come to the surface quickly.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, said mining noise would “overlap” these frequencies and cause confusion and distress to these important species, causing them to change their behaviour, just as they are already under threat. climate change and fishing.
Vital minerals are in greater demand as countries switch to fossil fuels in an attempt to boost them energy security.
Click to subscribe to Tom Heap’s ClimateCast wherever you get your podcasts
Lithium, cobalt and graphite are used in batteries for electric cars, silicon and tin for electronics and rare earth elements for electric cars and wind turbines.
But disturbances to marine ecosystems “at any scale” are likely to be long lasting and irreversible”, the paper warned.
Dr Kirsten Thompson, a lecturer in ecology at the University of Exeter, compared the noise to constant roadworks in a human neighborhood that was impossible to drown out.
“Imagine if your neighborhood was suddenly disrupted by construction work that goes on 24/7 – your life would change dramatically,” she said.
“Your mental health would be at risk, you might change your behavior to escape it. It’s no different for whales or dolphins.”
Dr Thompson told Sky News that whales are a “sentinel species for the health of the ocean”.
She said they also play a central role in food webs, cycling nutrients within the water column when they feed, and across oceans as they migrate.
“Whale populations may sequester more carbon than previously thought so their recovery, combined with reducing emissions, could be critical for the climate,” she said.
The Merseyside mega-battery is underway
Households reducing energy use to avoid blackouts
The climate crisis may have caused the collapse of the ancient empire
Deep sea mining is a relatively new method of recovering minerals and deposits from the ocean floor.
The industry has not yet received approval to begin commercial mining, but it may begin this summer after the March and July meetings of the International Seabed Authority, which regulates activity in international waters.
Many researchers hope that the materials locked in the seabed could help create new greener technologies, such as long-range electric cars, lighter rechargeable batteries, and wind turbines that can withstand extreme weather .
The world is expected to need four times as much vital minerals in 2040 for clean energy technologies as it does today, according to the lead International Energy Agency (IEA).
But others warn that deep-sea mining could affect the oceans in unexpected ways, including disrupting seabed habitats and intelligent animals at the top of the food chain. Many in this group call for a reduction in demand for energy and materials as well as a reduction in fossil fuels.
The University of Exeter study calls for more research into the impacts of deep-sea mining on megafauna.
The UK government is backing calls for a Global Ocean Treaty, to be negotiated at the United Nations next week, which could help protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
However, he also pledged in last year’s key minerals strategy to “find out more about deep-sea minerals and assess the challenges and opportunities of extracting them”.
It agreed not to support the issuance of any licenses for deep-sea mining projects “unless or until there is sufficient evidence of the potential impact on deep-sea ecosystems”.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday, and The Climate Show with Tom Heap on Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
Everything on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, YouTube and Twitter.
The show explores how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.