Living Between a Rock and Hard Place: Microbial Life in the Deep sea and Potential Impacts of Deep-sea Mining

March 17, 2022

Dr. Beth N. Orcutt, Senior Research Scientist, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

The global market for rare minerals is growing rapidly, which is driving interest in mining these resources from the seafloor as part of the emergent deep-sea mining industry. The recent National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) prioritizes mapping, exploration and characterization of seafloor resources, including those enriched in critical minerals. In partnership with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) and Ocean Exploration Trust, Dr. Orcutt is characterizing mineral and microbial resources of unexplored seamounts within the Monument. She recently had the great honor to participate in the Luʻuaeaahikiikapapakū expedition to explore the Voyager Seamounts in southwestern PMNM, and in April she will be the Lead Scientist on E/V Nautilus expedition Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu to explore seamounts of the Liliʻuokalani Ridge in the northwestern PMNM. While the Monument is protected from deep-sea mining activities, this research contributes to the conservation and management of these marine resources within the US EEZ, provides a comparison baseline for similar habitats just outside the US EEZ that might be targeted for resource exploitation, and improves general knowledge of microbial resources and ecosystem services in seamount habitats. In this talk Dr. Orcutt will review what is known about microbes eking out an existence in the deep sea "between a rock and a hard place", highlight recent discoveries from the deep sea of the Monument, and discuss what the potential impacts of deep-sea mining could be.

This presentation is part of the Third Thursday By the Bay Presentation Series at Mokupāpapa Discovery Center, which is the visitor center for Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hilo, Hawaiʻi. This State of the Monument lecture series is also supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.