Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The prospect of mining the seafloor is prompting calls for more research about its potential impact on the ocean and sea life.

The big picture: Metal-rich mineral nodules on the ocean floor contain cobalt, nickel and other ingredients that power batteries, solar panels and other renewable energy technologies. But they also support unique organisms, and mining a habitat that scientists are just beginning to explore and understand carries risks.

What's happening: The Pacific island nation of Nauru last month triggered a clause in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, requiring the International Seabed Authority to finalize rules for mining the ocean floor within two years.

  • At that time, contracts to mine the seabed would proceed under the regulations put in place.

But some marine scientists and policy experts say the scientific research required to create regulations can't be done in two years.

Details: Polymetallic nodules resting 15,000 feet below sea level on the ocean floor are rich in cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese, which build up around fragments of shell and rock over millions of years.

  • About half of the seafloor biodiversity in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the North Pacific Ocean where mining exploration is focused is associated with nodules, says Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Many of the animals, such as sponges and corals, are thought to be slow-growing and some support unique sea life.
  • The vast majority of biodiversity in the deep sea hasn't been described. Levin says it should be characterized before mining to know whether it has unique properties useful for medicine, materials and more.
  • "We don't yet know enough about the connections" between the seafloor and water column, she says, adding fisheries depend on a healthy water column and it's unclear how mining one area may affect another.

Other big questions are how far the plumes of sediment created when nodules are harvested travel and what impact they have on the ocean environment.

  • Recent tests in the CCZ found the densest part of the plume generated by a prototype nodule collector rose 16–20 feet above the seafloor, while smaller concentrations of sediment were detected at heights up to about 100 feet.
  • Most of the plume settled in or near the test area, says marine geologist Annemiek Vink of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Germany, which is conducting the research as part of a project called MiningImpact. But they found nodules blanketed with sediment up to about 1,600 feet away from the source.
  • Another study found similar results and "although this experiment was just in one location, it points to the need for more experiments and means we must be cautious when making statements about plumes spreading far and wide," says study author Bramley Murton, a marine geologist at the U.K.'s National Oceanography Centre.

Yes, but: These testing areas are small in comparison to what would be mined, says Levin.

  • And there are open questions about the effects of plumes farther from the collection sites.

What to watch: Vink says the team is working on detailed analyses of how the sediment behaves at different depths of the water column and how much is redeposited or blanketed on the nodules. They're also analyzing samples of microbes and fauna taken before and after the tests as well as noise emissions, and they plan to monitor the area over the next five years.

  • Other researchers meanwhile are studying whether artificial nodules can be placed on the seafloor to aid recovery after mining.

The bottom line: "We don’t have the science ready to make effective regulation," Levin says. "And two years is probably not enough time if we invoke the precautionary approach."

Go deeper: The future of EV batteries could be found under the sea

Go deeper

34 mins ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the defense table during jury selection at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty on all counts for carrying out the 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, including 14 students and three staff members.

Driving the news: Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty at a hearing on Wednesday to 17 murder counts and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for carrying out the deadly shooting.