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posted on 06.04.2018, 04:12 by Sophie A. L. Paul, Birgit Gaye, Matthias Haeckel, Sabine Kasten, Andrea Koschinsky

Increasing interest in deep-sea mineral resources, such as polymetallic nodules, calls for environmental research about possible impacts of mineral exploitation on the deep-sea ecosystem. So far, little geochemical comparisons of deep-sea sediments before and after mining induced disturbances have been made, and thus long-term environmental effects of deep-sea mining are unknown. Here we present geochemical data from sediment cores from an experimental disturbance area at 4,100 m water depth in the Peru Basin. The site was revisited in 2015, 26 years after a disturbance experiment mimicking nodule mining was carried out and compared to sites outside the experimental zone which served as a pre-disturbance reference. We investigated if signs of the disturbance are still visible in the solid phase and the pore water after 26 years or if pre-disturbance conditions have been re-established. Additionally, a new disturbance was created during the cruise and sampled 5 weeks later to compare short- and longer-term impacts. The particulate fraction and pore water were analyzed for major and trace elements to study element distribution and processes in the surface sediment. Pore water and bottom water samples were also analyzed for oxygen, nitrate, dissolved organic carbon, and dissolved amino acids, to examine organic matter degradation processes. The study area of about 11 km2 was found to be naturally more heterogeneous than expected, requiring an analysis of spatial variability before the disturbed and undisturbed sites can be compared. The disturbed sites exhibit various disturbance features: some surface sediments were mixed through, others had the top layer removed and some had additional material deposited on top. Pore water constituents have largely regained pre-disturbance gradients after 26 years. The solid phase, however, shows clear differences between disturbed and undisturbed sites in the top 20 cm so that the impact is still visible in the plowed tracks after 26 years. Especially the upper layer, usually rich in manganese-oxide and associated metals, such as Mo, Ni, Co, and Cu, shows substantial differences in metal distribution. Hence, it can be expected that disturbances from polymetallic nodule mining will have manifold and long-lasting impacts on the geochemistry of the underlying sediment.