ABSTRACT

This paper presents the rationale for and conclusions drawn from several years of exploration, research, engineering studies and. engineering design addressed to the problems of exploiting manganese nodule deposits in the deep oceans. The methodology and hardware developed during this project have been disclosed in a cohesive family of U.S. patents, most of which have already issued. While the overall system described represents an innovative approach to ocean mining and the key concepts are unique solutions to new and difficult problems, there are no "major breakthroughs." The author believes that the final success of underwater mineral exploitation lies in imaginative, thorough development of conventional engineering techniques rather than in new and highly sophisticated devices. Years of practical experience with ocean going ships and machinery has resulted in massive, rugged, simple gear to do a dirty job under difficult circumstances. The conclusion presented is that the time for ocean floor surficial deposit exploitation is now and that the tools are at hand.

Introduction

There is a tongue-in-the cheek study of the use of fossil fuels for an energy source widely circulated among nuclear engineers. It purports to coincide with the rediscovery of coal several centuries from now. After considering the hazards of mining and the toxicity of the combustion products it concludes that fossil fuels are impossible. Working from the same kind of irrefutable data, most of those who publicly consider the problem of the feasibility of profitably exploiting the surficial mineral deposits of the oceans have concluded that we are a decade or so from successful exploitation. They also foresee a significant technological breakthrough as a prelude to really getting down to tackling the problem. As a pragmatic engineer, it always distresses me to see a potentially profitable project rationalized to death. The sea is an impossibly hostile environment; I am part of a segment of engineering which, from the days of the Vikings and the Phoenicians, have not recognized the impossibility and have proceeded to meet each succeeding challenge. I believe we are able to meet this new challenge in today's economic environment.

I cannot completely condemn those who would study this problem and survey the known oceans for years to come before trying to exploit their discoveries; the engineering work I will describe was preceded by and overlapped with sufficient surveys to establish the physical environment and the location of enough sites of sufficient worth to establish the feasibility of the project. Continued surveys are needed, but exploitation need not be delayed until their completion.

Those who make their living in the oceans' environment of rust and rot and hurricanes have learned to make things rugged and to keep them simple; otherwise, they will break or freeze-up when you need them most. Sensitivity, selectivity and control are far less important than reliability; sophistication must be evaluated with down-time in mind. Much of the highly sophisticated oceanographic hardware in development today is justified in ASW or in finding a lost submarine or missile.

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