Living along the bottom of the seabed are the hydrothermal vents. These vents exist in environments under immense pressure, with volatile temperatures, toxic minerals, and devoid of sunlight. As the tectonics plates spread and magma rises, hydrothermal vents form. They are created when seawater circulates through fissures in the ocean’s crust and becomes super-heated by magma. After the mineral-rich waters reemerge, the minerals solidify to to form vents. These vents are the homes of biodiverse ecosystems and valuable mineral deposits. Thus, it is a target for scientific research, the biotechnology industry, and mining companies.
Even these deep sea communities are affected by climate change. Ocean temperatures are rising because the ocean acts as a buffer, sequestering excess heat in the atmosphere. The rising temperature stresses food chains that deep sea organisms rely upon, increases ocean acidification, and deoxygenates the ocean. Deep sea hydrothermal vents have unique properties that are especially relevant to mitigating climate change impacts.
Hydrothermal vents are a cornucopia of scientific potential in addressing climate change. These vents have evolved a plethora of uniquely evolved organisms that advance mitigation efforts in the climate change arena, aid in the clean-up of oils spills, and have potential applications to the medical field. For example, vent organisms have the ability to consume consume 90% of the released methane. In the atmosphere, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. These qualities have been put to use in creating industrial carbon-scrubbers.
While hydrothermal vents pose a significant aid in mitigating climate change, it is under threat from exploration and mining. Deep seabed mining involves exploiting mineral deposits from the seabed, such as though primarily found at hydrothermal vent sites. This “deep sea gold rush” has driven many industries to begin see the deep sea as a source of profit. As a result, Companies from around the world have claimed almost all of the Atlantic ridge, spanning from below the equator up to the polar caps. Seabed mining requires highly disruptive and damaging processes that have the ability to irreversibly alter hydrothermal vent ecosystems.
Currently, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted numerous exploration licenses for the ocean floor. The ISA requires “responsible” exploration of the seabed and applies new technologies to monitor the environmental impacts of mining. However, even if the best available science were applied to mining the deep seabed, it is virtually certain that deep sea mining “would be disproportionately high relative to terrestrial mining.” This is because a complete mining project would require the killing of invertebrate communities and create sediment plumes that would disturb thousands of miles of seafloor.
Thus, a more robust governing system is needed. Luckily, international organizations have stepped up in this arena. One such organization is the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI). DOSI works to identify priority management needs for resources in the deep ocean, is developing a set of best practice standards for sustainable use and development, raise awareness, and compile scientific date. DOSI focuses upon aiding developing countries in generating policies that protect and manage deep ocean resources like hydrothermal vents. Organizations like DOSI provide feasible alternatives policies and management strategies for development. These alternatives are crucial when dealing with sensitive, valuable, and unique ecosystems.