The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is leading a research cruise to address the challenges of exploring for mineral deposits on the sea floor.

Conducted aboard the RRS James Cook and travelling from Southampton to the Mid-Atlantic ridge, it focuses on extinct hydrothermal vents; testing technologies that detect the deposits and assessing their minerals.

Expedition leader Dr Bramley Murton said, “The challenges posed by deep sea exploration are similar in scale to space exploration. The technology that allows us to reach these hidden worlds is vital to our understanding of them,” according to Science Daily.

“The deep-seafloor we will be exploring during our expedition is an extreme environment of intense pressure and eternal darkness hiding a rugged landscape akin to a combination of the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley 3.5 kilometres beneath the waves.”

Bramley went on to say the British Geological Survey’s robotic drilling rig will bore holes into the deposits to collect samples of the minerals.

The drill is equipped with an adaptation to allow it to drill through the deposits and collect samples to identify whether minerals deposited by hydrothermal vents can withstand the degradation of the seafloor after they become extinct.

The new technologies being tested for detecting the mineral deposits include two that operate the same as a CT scanner, and another similar to a large metal detector. The first two – developed by both the University of Southampton and their German partners GEOMAR –  involve identifying distortions in an electric field transmitted through the sea floor which identifies sites of buried mineral deposits.

The expedition also involves the HyBis, a robotic underwater vehicle fitted with a special colour spectrometer to analyse the seabed composition.

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