What is Deep Sea Mining? is a five episode webseries dedicated to the topic of deep sea mining, a new frontier of resource extraction at the bottom of the ocean, set to begin in the next few years. Deep sea mining will occur mainly in areas rich in polymetallic nodules, in seamounts, and in hydrothermal vents. Mining companies are already leasing areas in national and international waters in order to extract minerals and metals such as manganese, cobalt, gold, copper, iron, and other rare earth elements from the seabed. Main sites targeted for future exploration are the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Clarion Clipperton Zone (Pacific Ocean) in international waters, as well as the islands of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Japan, and the Portuguese Azores archipelago. Yet, potential impacts on deep sea ecosystems are yet to be assessed by the scientific community, and local communities are not being consulted.

The prospects of this new, experimental form of mining are re-actualizing a colonial, frontier mentality and redefining extractivist economies for the twenty-first century. This webseries addresses different issues related to this process, from resource politics to ocean governance by international bodies, prompting today’s shift towards a “blue economy” but also efforts to defend sustained ocean literacy when the deep ocean, its species, and resources remain largely unmapped and unstudied.

Episode 1: Tools for Ocean Literacy is a cartographical survey of technologies that have contributed to ocean literacy and seabed mapping. Structured around a single shot along a vertical axis, the episode inquires about deep sea mining and the types of geologic formations where it is set to occur, particularly hydrothermal vents. Understanding the process of deep sea mining demands not only a temporal investigation – its main dates, legal and corporate landmarks, and scientific breakthroughs – but also a spatial axis connecting the seafloor to outer space cartographic technologies. After all, we know less about the ocean depths than about the universe beyond this blue planet.