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Underwater Unrest: KTH Study Warns Against Baltic Sea Metal Extraction

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A recent study from KTH Royal Institute of Technology has cast a critical eye on the growing interest in seabed mining, particularly in the Baltic Sea. As global demand for metals like silicon and cobalt surges, methods like vacuuming the seabed have come under scrutiny. KTH's research, led by Bijan Dargahi, reveals significant environmental concerns, emphasizing the unsustainability of this practice in the Baltic Sea.

The allure of underwater metal deposits has led to increased mining claims on seabeds worldwide, including the Baltic Sea, where the Swedish Geological Survey (SGU) recently expanded exploration permissions. However, KTH's study, published in the journal Frontiers, highlights the detrimental impact such activities can have on marine environments.

Key concerns include the destruction of natural sea bedforms and the fauna dependent on them, and the creation of massive sludge plumes that disrupt marine plants and wildlife. Particularly alarming is the contamination risk posed by large seabed areas in the Baltic Sea, like around the Gotland Basin, known for high levels of cadmium, mercury, and lead. Mining activities could mobilize these sediments, creating clouds that might travel vast distances, affecting shorelines and upper water layers over weeks to years.

This dispersion of particles has the potential to destroy habitats and contaminate fish and other marine life. The problem is exacerbated in the Baltic Sea, whose health is already declining. Dargahi criticizes the industry's advocacy for seabed mining as a solution to oxygen depletion in these waters, noting the lack of scientific evidence supporting these claims. He also raises concerns about the criteria for granting mining permits.

KTH's study is groundbreaking, being the first of its kind, and utilizes advanced modeling to understand these impacts. It serves as a cautionary tale about the environmental costs of underwater metal extraction, particularly in sensitive ecosystems like the Baltic Sea.

Concluding Insights:

The KTH study urges a reevaluation of seabed mining practices, especially in ecologically vulnerable areas like the Baltic Sea. It highlights the need for comprehensive scientific research before embarking on such environmentally impactful activities and questions the current approach to granting mining permits. This research is a crucial step towards understanding and mitigating the potential ecological disasters associated with seabed metal extraction.

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