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Predicting, Assessing and Managing Sediment Plumes Generated by Sea Floor Mining


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Author R Grogan


Nautilus Minerals (Nautilus) is a sea floor resource exploration and development company focused on developing the Solwara 1 Project, a copper-gold sea floor massive sulfide deposit in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea, for which it holds a mining lease and associated environment permit.

During the environmental impact assessment and project development phase, Nautilus completed a number of hydrodynamic modelling exercises in order to predict the nature, volume and extent of the plumes likely to be generated by the sea floor mining tools and return water discharge at the sea floor.

The modelling was conducted using the suspended sediment fate model (SSFATE), developed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and RPS APASA engineering consultants. The SSFATE model was originally developed in order to predict and manage dredging plumes, and has since been adapted for deep ocean sea floor mining. The model uses a Lagrangian approach to remove the limitations of grid resolution, and simulates far-field effects of sedimentation plumes by assuming that the average transport and turbulence associated with currents are dominant over the initial turbulence at the release point. The random walk procedure utilised in the model tracks particle size classes as they disperse and settle, and also takes into consideration any re-suspension that may occur following settlement (RPS APASA, 2014).


Grogan, R, 2016. Predicting, assessing and managing sediment plumes generated by sea floor mining, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference, pp 124–127 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).