The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will host an international gathering of scientists, policymakers, environmentalists and industry representatives to discuss mining precious metals from the seafloor.

Recent seafloor mining proposals are centering on massive sulfide deposits-containing copper, gold, silver and zinc-that are found in deep-sea hydrothermal vent systems.

These systems are formed in places of volcanic activity where hydrothermal fluid carries with its dissolved metals and other chemicals from deep beneath the ocean floor. These metals can former seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits.

Scientists are still in the early stages of studying these SMS deposits, but the active vent sites that generate them can often play host to species and ecosystems that were previously unknown to science, said WHOI Senior Scientist Maurice Tivy.

The new frontier of deep-sea exploration and mining raises questions about the sustainable use of these resources and potential environmental impacts, Tivy added. This colloquium represents an invaluable-and extremely timely-opportunity to discuss all of the various scientific, political, legal, and economic implications of mining with the people most knowledgeable about it.

Commercial sea floor mining is already being planned offshore of Papua New Guinea. In May the International Seabed Authority, which implements the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, will finalize its rules opening up the high seas to mining exploration and development. However, the United States has not ratified the Law of the Sea convention.

The Elizabeth and Henry Morss Jr. Colloquium is open to the public and will be held Thursday April 2 in Woods Hole, MA, from 2 to 5 p.m. eastern time. It will be broadcast in real time on the internet at www.whoi.edu/workshops/deepseamining