Photo: IRIS

Sustainable Mining

The world’s rapidly expanding human population is putting increasing pressure on mineral extraction companies to extract more resources.  At the same time, the environment on land and in the sea is also under pressure from mining. 
In terms of mineral extraction in the oceans, the deep-sea is being recognized as a potential area for future human exploitation. However, deep-sea mining will disturb extensive areas of seabed through material and habitat removal and the addition of toxic elements and chemicals to the ocean. Nevertheless, our understanding of how the deep-sea will respond to mining disturbance is extremely poorly known.
In terms of land-based mineral resource extraction, mining companies are particularly challenged by waste management, as they often produce large quantities of mineral waste rock and tailings from mineral processing during resource extraction. In Norway, mines often lie amongst rugged terrains situated close to highly productive fjords. Therefore, a practise of placing waste in the fjords has been recently implemented and 33 disposal sites in Norway have so far been identified by IRIS’ researchers.
Understanding the effects of mining on the environment is critical to the sustainable development of the mining industry around the world.  As such, it is one of the key areas of research at IRIS Biomiljø.  Currently, IRIS is involved in a range of projects assessing how fjords and deep-sea environments are, and will be impacted by mining disturbance.  Many of these projects are focused in extreme environments (e.g., the abyssal seafloor) where we are using state-of-the-art in-situ technologies to explore and characterize ecosystem processes, but IRIS also is working closer to home studying how deep-sea and shallower fjords are affected by mine tailings disposal and how mining companies can best alleviate the impacts on the environment

Mining projects currently underway at IRIS