Whatever happened to deep-sea mining?

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 19, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


“In the depths of the ocean, there are mines of zinc, iron, silver and gold that would be quite easy to exploit”

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

There really should be a rule about starting any more deep-sea mining articles with that Jules Verne quote. Something like 50% of my own articles on the topic begin with that aging line from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There are mines of gold in the deep sea, but, as it turns out, they are not quite so easy to exploit.

Three decades ago, the deep-sea mining industry coalesced around a hydrothermal vent prospect in Papua New Guinea. At the time one of the largest known seafloor massive sulfides, its proximity to shore, as well as its location within the territorial seas of a single nation, made it the ideal spot to launch the first deep-sea mining operation. A decade later the first mining tools touched down on the seafloor.

This is not that story. The rise and fall and fall and rise and fall and rise of deep-sea mining is a tale almost a century old (and one which we have blogged about quite a bit). Like the tide itself, the industry is entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of commodities prices. When copper and gold are down, exploiting the seafloor is prohibitively expensive. When the price eventually rises, the upfront cost and long tail of mobilization means that initial profit projections are woefully obsolete by the time production begins. The Persistent Technology movement managed to handily tank the commodities market for most of the 20’s. 

Of course, while the underlying resource proved to be too risky in a volatile commodities market, the technology developed for those first mines went on to be enormously profitable in other sub-sea ventures. Biomining and Rare-Earth Element Shunting wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these early pioneers. Nor, for that matter, would some non-exploitive industries, like deep aquaculture and thermogradient energy production. (more…)

Call for Abstracts: First Symposium on Extra-Terrestrial Marine Conservation

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 18, 2016

cp2SETMC will be held from 1 July – 4 August 2042 at the Attenborough Centre for Conservation Glasgow University, Scotland.

We are now accepting abstracts for in person and virtual presentations, as well as proposals for neuro-linked discussion groups.

All abstracts must be submitted online or via neural-uplink by 5pm (GMT) on 1 March 2042. Decisions will be made by the end of March 2042. Complete instructions for submission are available at the meeting website. The selection process is highly competitive. (more…)

Ride the Digital Slipstream: Southern Fried Server Update #3

Field Notes from the Future

There is a message buried in all of this.

Here is what I know:

The infection didn’t start January 1, the code was already spreading through my servers on December 31. It entered through a security hole in Networked Blogs, the service we use to post articles to Facebook. It is likely that the invasion actually began on Facebook, but I don’t know how. Whatever else it is, the code is not spreading beyond Southern Fried Science. Not even our sister sites on the shared server have been affected. Oceanography for Everyone is safe.

It has control of the @sfriedscience twitter account, likely through WordPress. This is the inevitable consequence of a too-connected world. Our securest systems are only as strong as the weakest systems to which we connect them.

Something is happening to cyborgs in the future. I can’t shake the feeling that this is all somehow connected.

If I were me, and I am me, and I remembered a month, 25 years ago, where my blog was overwhelmed by the future, I would use the opportunity to send a message back. (more…)

Join the DIT Orbital Observatory program and print your own microsatellites

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 17, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Are you ready for the next evolution of the do-it-together global monitoring movement? For the last few years we’ve been training students, citizen scientists, and legacy academics to build small, low-cost, open-source satellites. These satellites, outfitted with an array of sensors, have, after decades of development, finally reached the point where they can fulfill the gaps left by the Great Deorbiting, when most government research satellites fell–either literally, or simply into disrepair.

Multi-material 3D printing helped lead the charge, allowing users to fabricate parts, even complete micro-circuits, for nickels, using a desktop set up. These parts could be standardized and printed as a single contiguous piece, adding durability and reliability to the project. Thanks to these tools, fabricating your own personal observation satellite is now easier than ever. (more…)

First DNA-based computer virus jumps the cyborg hardware barrier.

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 16, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


The first fully integrated cybernetic virus would be a lot funnier if the implications weren’t so terrifying. Signs of trouble began around lunchtime Tuesday. New Yorkers with gastrophic augments noticed an abnormal rumbling in their stomachs. Within a few hours, the phenomenon was tracked to a single food truck, El Pollo Gordo, making the Manhattan rounds. Get too close and the stomach implant, designed to track calorie consumption and regulate diet at the source, would trigger the illusion of hunger.

It certainly has been a good week for the Fat Chicken. Almost a third of all Manhattanites have a gastrophic augment and hungry cyborgs are lining up around the block. El Pollo Gordo denied any knowledge. That seems likely, since food trucks don’t tend to run sophisticated biohacking labs in addition to deep-fryers. 

So what’s going on? (more…)

Ramblings of an old codger academic #146: What the graduating student has to look forward to.

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 15, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


I have come back, rather the worse for wear (my elderly liver, despite regenerative medication, really can’t take the pace anymore!) from a celebration for my 200th successful graduate student. The Head of my Department (actually a past grad student of one of my past grad students, or my grand-grad student I guess!) actually pushed the budgetary boat out and we had some very agreeable Canadian Cabernet and a chocolate cake that tasted like it was covered in chocolate from the days when there were still cacao plants. It really was quite a happy celebration, apart from the fact that this newly graduated PhD was heading out into an academic world that is sadly red in tooth and claw. There’s only a month until my 71st birthday, and with luck I’ll be able to retire within the next ten years. I’d retire happy, and live out the rest of my years reading and drinking nice wine, if it wasn’t for my concerns about my old students.

Not having children myself, many of my graduate students have become part of my family – I have many whom I have nurtured through undergraduate, masters, doctorates and even the super doctoral degrees they introduced in response to the glut of unemployed PhDs. Back in the day, there used to be something called tenure, when professors essentially had job security and the academic freedom to study whatever they wanted. What we call a professor in present times was called an “adjunct’ back in the day. As a professor back then most of us only had to teach two classes a semester, not six or seven. And you could basically teach whatever you wanted, without multiple committees scrutinizing and editing your course content for subversive political statements or accounts of the past that did not match with the approved official historical timeline! (more…)

How bioprospecting became biomining.

Field Notes from the Future

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Bioprospecting. One of the great buzzwords of economic conservation–the movement to assign economic value to natural systems such that we could justify their protection on a pragmatic basis. Our definitions were soft. A shark was worth $1 million to tourism. A wetland provided $12 billion in services. And, most persuasively, biodiversity retention could lead to $100 trillion in new drug discoveries. Economic conservation provided a huge, pragmatic incentive and allowed us to protect vast swaths of ocean.

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that once you hang conservation on the economic value of nature, as soon as the value of exploitation exceeds the conservation value, the system fails.

Bioprospecting was that tipping point.

We live in a post-antibiotic world. Microbes adapt to medicine almost as quickly as new drugs are discovered. A huge proportion of medical funding is now dedicated exclusively to exploration for the sole purpose of discovering new novel antibiotics, anti-microbials, and viracides that can stem the tides of Massively Resistant Vectors (often anthropomorphized as Merv by medical professionals) for a few more months. This enhanced exploration has led to an entirely new industry–Biomining. (more…)

Sharks and Global Norming in North Carolina

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 14, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


I’ve been posting very sporadically due to spending the past month or so compiling all the data from the Marine Species Distribution Survey’s Cape Lookout leg.  This was an exciting part of the survey for me because it brought me back to the waters I worked in while earning my PhD, so it a lot of ways it was like coming home.  I happily took the lead on the apex predator portion of the survey so that’s mostly what I’ll be recapping first, but future posts will have more details on the trap, core, and genetic surveys.

Of course a lot has changed since then.  For one thing, the ocean was two meters shallower, though parts of Beaufort and Morehead City used to flood at high tide even back in 2015.  The biggest change may be the collapse and migration of many of North Carolina’s barrier islands, especially after Hurricane Monty rolled through ten years ago.  In my mind I still picture Cape Lookout, now an island sitting by itself southeast of the Down East Banks, as part of a chain of barrier islands that once outlined all the North Carolina sounds.  Core and Shackleford Banks are still on the map, but as shallow subsurface shoals that have a nasty habit of grounding whatever daring (or foolish) freighters still land cargo in Morehead City.  They do draw in a lot of fish though, and still act as a sort of sill that allows Back and Core Sounds to function pretty much as shallow lagoons.  If rumors of coral growth on some of the banks are true, it’s possible that the shoals could become fixed in place again.

(more…)

When we ate the rich.

Field Notes from the Future

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


The first floating city, Aquapolis, set sail in 1975 at the Okinawa World Expo. Aquapolis was intended to be a symbol of the infinite possibilities of life at sea. It would herald a new era of seasteading and create permanent colonies, even nations, that existed exclusively at sea.

Aquapolis was sold for scrap in 2000, her vision unrealized.

From Sealand to the Seasteading Institute, from the Republic of Rockall to China’s Reclaimed Island Territories to the tech pirates harbored aboard The World, the dream of a micro-nation at sea renews itself with every new generation.

The Maldives were the first nation-state to float away.

It shouldn’t be surprising that catastrophic sea level rise was the catalyst that finally ignited the first self-sufficient floating colonies. This tiny island chain, none more than a meter above sea level, had two advantages: The Maldives had already invested in developing floating platforms to expand their territory and develop novel luxury hotels and the Maldives were rich. (more…)

What Star Wars can teach us about the ecology of a Type I civilization

Field Notes from the FutureJanuary 13, 2016

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


It is a trope long held that there are some *problems* with the ecosystems of the Star Wars universe. The worlds of Star Wars are monobiomes. We have the desert planets of Jakku and Tatooine; the ice planet of Hoth; the forest moon of Endor; the jungles of Yavin IV; the lava world of whatever that mess was in Revenge of the Sith. This is, of course, not limited to Star Wars, science fiction is resplendent with monobiomes. But natural worlds are not uniform. Diversity builds over distance. Isolation shapes and reshapes population. Ecosystems do not generally strive to approach a global equilibrium state.

Even though all known viable planets have ecosystem diversity, this trope continues to dominate popular science fiction. We love monobiomes.

But what if the trope is right?

Almost 100 years ago, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed an eponymous scale to classify civilizations. Roughly, a Type I Civilization can capture or produce the same amount of energy equivalent to the solar insolation on Earth. A Type II civilization can produce the equivalent energy of its solar system (i.e. harness the full power of the sun). A Type III Civilization can do the same for all sun in its galaxy. We hover somewhere just south of Type I, but the Galactic Republic of Star Wars lies somewhere between a Type II and a Type III. (more…)

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